Documentary and news TVs: State-sponsored media in Egypt doomed to failure

Two days ago, the United Media Services Company, owned by the Egyptian General Intelligence, announced the establishment of the first Egyptian documentary channel. The trial broadcast begins next January, and will start working next May. This channel broadcasts documentaries produced by students of media faculties throughout the year after holding a competition to select the best of them. At the same time, the track shows documentaries produced by the company’s Documentary Film Unit, especially about military documentation, in addition to works related to the Muslim Brotherhood and one of its theorists, Sayyid Qutb. This comes a few days after the announcement of the launch of the new Cairo News Channel, owned by the same apparatus while providing Egyptian media coverage directed at the Arab world, which received widespread criticism immediately after its appearance in light of the unfavourable climate for a free and robust media.

Previous experiences

Of course, the two new channels are not the first in the list of properties owned by the General Intelligence companies, as it owns DMC channels, the ON channel group, Al-Hayat TV, and Al-Nahar TV, in addition to a controlling stake in the CBC channel group, which owns the Extra News channel, in addition to Radio 9090 and many other press websites. Several times, starting from 2014 until now, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s words expressed his envy of the late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who described it more than once by saying, “Oh, Abdel Nasser is lucky of his media,” or when he said, “The late President Abdel Nasser was lucky because he was speaking and the media was in his favour”. This group of channels is run by direct orders from the General Intelligence to fulfil the president’s wish, “He used to talk, and the media was with him.” Still, it turned because “he is speaking, and the media repeats after him.”

Although this group of media and political channels was provided by a group of graduates of the Presidential Youth Rehabilitation Program (PLP), who received training adopting the government’s vision, and among the training program was security training in what is called “national security.” These qualifying programs made them trusted by the General Intelligence to manage these channels in terms of preparing materials, selecting topics, names of guests, and even details of each paragraph of the programs so that an email is sent daily to the workers in the channel, they are directly obliged to adhere to every letter in it, and whoever deviates from the text in any way; he is permanently fired from the channel and terminated from his service. This nationalization has made all those channels spin in one swarm, so what you will hear on the Al-Nahar channel is what you will listen to on DMC, and what goes on in On is the same as what press websites do, so the media discourse is one without even diversity. However, the only variety is in the form of The media and the faces, but the topics are the same, the dialogues are the same, and the vision is the same with different looks.

Can documentary succeed?

In terms of media as profit-making institutions, we do not find that these channels have achieved gains that can be mentioned. It is enough to talk about the dismissal of Tamer Morsi from United Media Services last May, and the main reason for that is the size of the company’s losses, which amounted to half a billion pounds since 2016. As we mentioned, nothing new is mentioned in these experiments, but let us go back to the closest similar experience, whether for the Cairo news channel or the documentary channel whose name has not been announced yet, as it is an identical experiment from Extra News channel, which the CBC Group owns. The General Intelligence Service owns the controlling stake in it.

The broad role of the media lies in providing adequate awareness to the citizen, in addition to educating, presenting facts and having a significant influence on people, which cannot measure digitally. Still, it is enough to say that when the citizen listens and watches, nothing is formed from him except the conviction of what the state wants, which is that everything is fine, while he sees problems surrounding him in all areas. Even the technical media performance in the distinguished coverage was lacking in those channels while the incendiary events took place in Egypt. Many Arab channels were prevented from direct range on the ground. These channels, led by the specialized Extra News channel, were satisfied with the developments announced by the government and relied on video clips filmed by the citizens’ efforts to broadcast them. They also relied in their coverage on those satisfied with their words while describing what happened as a “funeral” description, as if they were covering an individual event and not a national issue of concern to the whole people. In short, these channels provided news from open sources that any Egyptian could view from another source. While other media channels were presenting an objective vision, with comprehensive and semi-exclusive coverage in which they relied on Egyptian experts, live broadcasts and exclusive interviews, they made the Egyptian viewer go to them to know what is happening in his country, whether in the bombing of the National Cancer Institute in 2019 or even the Abu Sefein church fire last August.

The new channel is still in its early days, Cairo News, but its performance has mostly stayed the same according to the previous framework. The coverage is the same, what the “experts” say, nothing more than a repetition of what is said in opinion articles about global, Arab and African affairs, and despite the passage of days since its launch, nothing unusual happened that led it to the “trend market” on which the owned press sites depend. The General Intelligence has the right to measure the extent of its reach to the public while continuing to promote it on the sites and convey additional comments about the importance of excellence and quality of what that channel will present in the Egyptian media. As for the documentary channel that has not yet started, it is essential to remember that what will be shown are the same documentaries broadcast by existing media, and what will happen is nothing but a rebroadcast of those films in one place throughout the day, and this is appropriate to explore what that channel will achieve.