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The Revolution Reaches Egypt’s State Run Media

April 8, 2011

There are many changes in the state run media. But what will they mean within the larger media ecology?

I blogged recently about the role of state media in post-Mubarak Egypt and the possibility it was being made more independent. Official changes were announced March 30 and they were sweeping: 17 new people have been appointed to chairmen of board and chief editor positions in seven state newspapers.

There are two main reasons for the changes. First, many of the people being replaced were considered to be Mubarak appointees, and particularly cronies of his son Gamal. Second, there’s been a significant decline in revenues at the state media over the last decade as they have failed to successfully compete with independent and international news media.

The most significant change has been at the flagship state newspaper Al-Ahram where Abdel Moneim Said, one of Gamal Mubarak’s closest aides, was ousted as chairman of the board and replaced by Labib al-Sebai, an award winning journalist who had reportedly been denied promotion for his independent views.

Even more significant is the replacement of editor in chief Usama Saraya by Abdel Azim Hamad a political commentator with Arab nationalist sentiments who left Al-Ahram a few years ago to edit the independent Al-Chorouq.

Usama Saraya was the poster child for sycophantic journalists. He was the genius who authorized in 2009 the Photoshopping of a photograph of world leaders to put Mubarak in front. He later defended the practice in a column in Al-Ahram saying it was an “expressionistic” photo “a brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue, his unique role in leading it before Washington or any other” (as he told The Guardian) rather than portray the actual order in which the men walked, which was set by protocol (i.e., as host of the Sharm al-Sheikh conference, Mubarak politely allowed the others to precede him out of the room).

Under Saraya’s editorship, Al-Ahram initially ignored the protests, then defamed the protesters as hooligans bought with foreign funds, then–hours after Mubarak resigned l–headlined the paper “The people ousted the regime.” He subsequently apologized to “the Egyptian people” for the years of propaganda.

The shake-up extended to state television, where Ibrahim Kamal al-Said replaced Abdel Latif al-Manawy replaces as head of Egyptian TV’s newsroom. Nihal Kamal was appointed head of state TV and Ismail al-Shishtawy al-Iraqi was appointedhead of State Radio.

Newspaper and  magazine Ruz al-Youssef has three new leaders. Board chairman Karam Gabr, a former NDP representative on the Shura Council, has been replaced by Gamal Al-Madul. Independent journalist Ibrahim Khalil was appointed as editor-in-chief of the paper and Usama Salama replaces replacing Abdallah Kamal as editor-in-chief.

Adil Abdel Aziz was appointed as the chairman and editor-in-chief of the Middle East News Agency (MENA), replacing Abdallah Hassan.

Helmy al-Namnam was appointed editor-in-chief of Al-Hilal, a monthly magazine, founded in 1892.

Gamal Abu Bey was appointed editor-in-chief of Al-Massa daily.

Many of the people being replaced were allies of Gamal Mubarak, or had close ties with the regime. But their replacements are mostly journalists with long histories of working within state media.

What this line-up suggests to me is that the government is seeking to cut obvious ties with the former regime, but not necessarily change the basic role of state media as a voice of the state. On the other hand, in the face of competition from increasingly less-censored independent media, will they be able to revive their flagging revenues if they don’t alter their position?

“The new names indicate that the government is responding to the demands of the revolution by removing all corrupt journalists who transformed the state-owned media that belongs to the people into a platform to serve the former regime,” said Salah Abdel Maksoud, chargé d’affaires of Egypt’s Journalists’ Syndicate.

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