It seems then that the transition you're talking about, from service provider
to news producer, is a natural one. You have the infrastructure in place, with
reporters, studios, equipment, and experience, and also a reputation for quality
service with broadcasters around the world.
Nawar: That's exactly
right-when Video Cairo started, we started building confidence and credibility,
and others came to rely on us more and more. This puts more responsibilities on
us, and it's natural that we would expand from that. We host CNN production, Dubai
Business Channel production, Al-Jazeera, Rai Uno,
ZDF, Abu Dhabi TV, and provide the news sectors of Egyptian TV with editorial
and technical support. And we work for other companies and operations--for example,
when the latest archaeological discoveries were made in Saqqara, National Geographic
contacted us and cooperated in covering the event. So besides the news there are
special projects, documentaries and features.
Sullivan: As your
restructuring takes place, and Video Cairo focuses more and more on your own news
production for you own channel, what happens to the services you've been providing
for others? Will you continue with it? In other words, is doing your own news
coverage a shift in the company's focus, or is it an expansion?
Nawar: It's an
expansion-we'll keep Video Cairo production as it is, and develop it. But in the
meantime we're creating the infrastructure for our own news channel. We're creating
a newsroom, new technical facilities, new editorial support to boost the project.
But this will not come at the expense of the existing projects.
Sullivan: You have
SNG [satellite news gathering] capabilitieswhat does this mean in terms
of helping you serve your clients?
Nawar: This provides
very, very valuable services to our clients. For example, during the round of
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations held in Taba we decided to send the SNG a day
ahead of the negotiations. Two days later other people started to come in, but
we were there first. Most of the early reports coming out of Taba were from us.
We established an editorial services there as well; with the SNG we sent editorial
and production teams.
stations were you providing for?
Nawar: Sky, Reuters,
AP, CNN, French channel 2, BBC, most of the big stations worked through us in
Taba. A few days later we sent the SNG to Libya just ahead of the Lockerbie verdict.
We thought that when the verdict is announced, whichever way it went, Libya would
be a focus point of the world's attention. So we sent our production facilities
and SNG there; on the day of the verdict we had everything in place, and again
serviced much of the world's broadcasters interested in monitoring the story.
We had as well editorial and production support, again. When Kaddafi had his news
conference, we were the ones who were there and who transmitted it to the world.
We've done the same thing in Syria when Asad died, during King Hussein's funeral,
during the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, President Mubarak's visit to the Vatican.
exactly do you mean by "editorial support?"
Nawar: We do two
things: we do the research for reporters, and we have our own reporters as well.
We have teams of researchers both here in Cairo and on location; they follow an
event and keep in contact with our people in the field to provide them with background
and data. And as I mentioned earlier we have reporters too, as in Jerusalem.
have been problems recently between the Egyptian government and Al-Jazeera [see
news story in TBS issue 5], and Video Cairo took some of the flak. Do you
still work with Al-Jazeera?
more so than ever. We have an office in 6th of October Media Production City,
and they're planning to have facilities out there as well, and we hope the cooperation
Sullivan: The legalization
of private satellite channels in Egypt happened only quite recently. When did
you make the decision to enter into this expansion?
Nawar: Last year
when the prime minister issued his decree concerning the Media Free Zone, giving
the private sector the right to set up TV channels, that was the first indication
from the government that the private sector could move into full gear in these
areas that were prohibited before. Before only state TV was allowed to transmit.
Now, with the Media Free Zone, the private sector was invited in to contribute
to TV production. Of course, in talking about TV production you must differentiate
between news production and any other type of production. With news production
there are still more regulations. This is why the project is a little slow, it
takes time. There are regulations we have to fulfill, and that's the process we're
facilities do you have in Media Production City?
Nawar: Right now
we just have office space, but we're planning a newsroom and studios for news,
and teleport. It'll be a complete news center, including uplink and downlink facilities,
editorial facilities, studio space. We'll keep this office; we already have a
fiber-optic line from here to 6th of October. We have two channels reserved on
Nilesat, used for our business-to-business use and then, when we start transmitting,
for our own use.
up news, as opposed to setting up a game show, talk show, music show, or any other
type of program must take more time and money to get the infrastructure in placeyou
have to have the trained staff, equipment, everything that gives you the ability
to do serious news coverage. Is there anyone else in Egypt setting up a private
satellite news channel?
Nawar: There has
been a license granted to Al-Mehwar, which is going to do news, and that's the
only one issued so far. We've applied for the license, but it's still going through
the process. Al-Mehwar got its license last year. We hope they go on-air soonwe
like competition. In the news business competition is vital and very exciting--you
compete every second, every second counts. It's not like with documentaries, where
you work for months on a piece; you have to make the right decisions in seconds.
It's beneficial to have more than one private news channel in Egypt; it'll give
the viewers the best. If Al-Mehwar and Cairo Sat News both go on air, plus the
existing Nile News and Nile TV, it'll create competition in the market. There
will be at least four players in the Egyptian satellite news field, and this will
give viewers much more than just one or two players can.
Sullivan: But once
you're up on satellite, you're not competing just with other players in your country.
Nawar: That's right,
it's pan-Arab competition. When I talk about Egyptian competition that's within
the realm of legal issues and the legal framework. But once you're on air on satellite,
the whole world is the playing field, not even just the Arab world. It's everywhere
Arabs livein America, Asia, Latin America, everywhere. You compete with
whoever can reach the same places. We see some gaps in the market-although there
are lots of TV news channels on satellite, almost all of them share some of the
same features. Here in the Middle East most of the pan-Arab satellite news channels
are from the Gulf region. MBC is Saudi, although it's based in London. Al-Jazeera
is Qatari. Abu Dhabi TV and the Dubai channels. The only competition is LBC from
Lebanon and the Egyptian channels. LBC's main advertising market is Saudi Arabia,
so they still hold to Gulf concerns. What Cairo Sat News wants to provide is something
different. Egypt is a different culture, a different civilization, a different
political situation. We want to enhance choices in the regional market by providing
a different perspective than the Gulf channels do. Egypt is the most populated
country in the region, with the longest history, and a lot of people across the
region are interested in what goes on here. Our channel should represent the essence
of Egyptian life from a news angle.
type of news will you cover?
Nawar: It's a comprehensive
concept of news, not just political news but also business news, cultural news,
sports, fashion. There's great regional interest in Egyptian culture, music, films,
sports. I've worked for other Arab TV and newspapers, and a third to a half of
the material we used came from Egypt. There are experts here in many areas, great
resources, access to information. Where else in the region can you find fifty
different experts interested in the same subject, each of them able to provide
something unique and make a genuine contribution? We want to capitalize on the
resources we have here.
do you hope to be on air?
Nawar: I hope to
be on air by next year. But we don't have a strict timetable because it's vital
to take things step by step, make sure the company is properly structured. To
launch a news channel you have to be standing on very solid ground. We're working
on taking the resources we already have and expanding on them, and making sure
that each piece is in place. TBS
For more information,
please see Senior Editor S. Abdallah Schleifer's profile
of VCS and its director Muhammed Gohar in the Fall 1999 issue.