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Continuity and Change(?) In State Media

December 26, 2011

Middle East News Agency: How the Egyptian state talks to the Egyptian people.

Under the old regime, the state communicated to the people via state media, state television in particular. In spite of Egypt’s dramatic social and political changes, state television continues to play that role. But the medium is perhaps not as unidirectional as it used to be.

I was thinking about this today as I skimmed the Egyptian newspapers. The first story that caught my attention involved the statements Sunday Dec. 25th by Mansour Hassan, head of the civilian advisory council to SCAF, explaining why presidential elections and handover of power to a civilian government could not be accomplished by Jan. 25th, as demanded by many protesters.

Mansour–whose council is supposed to represent the populace view to the military council–did not call a general press conference, at which he would have had to answer questions, contextualize his remarks and perhaps be challenged. Instead, he spoke to the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA), and let them redistribute his comments to the various state, opposition and independent news media.

For the state, the existence of unidirectional distribution of media has always been a boon, allowing them a linear, one-way mode of communication from the state to the populace, with none of the messiness of dialogue or conversation.

On the other hand, another story made me think about the nature of the changes in Egyptian media, and question whether state media is as impervious to public response as it used to be.

According to Al-Masry al-Youm, the TV show “Good Morning Egypt,” found itself in trouble after it broadcast pictures of two brothers accused of attempted murder, claiming that the two were arrested during the violence outside the cabinet building between 16 and 21 December.

According to the news story:

The suspects’ parents filed a complaint with the attorney general after they saw the daily news show on state TV. They accused the interior and information ministers, and the director of the channel, of misleading the public and fabricating charges against their sons.

Prosecutors heard testimony yesterday, Dec. 25th, from the show’s producer, and have also summoned the chief investigator who made the arrests, and staff from state TV’s legal affairs department, in order to determine the exact date the two men were arrested and the accusations made against them.

According to Al-Masry Al-Youm:

The suspects’ mother said the chief investigator of the Hadayeq al-Qobba neighborhood, accompanied by a squad of masked men, stormed her house at dawn on 14 December and arrested her sons without giving an explanation.

The notion that two people from a working class neighborhood would file a charge against the police and state television is a powerful sign of how much things are changing in terms of people’s relations with the state.

In the Mubarak era, when civil organizations like Saad Ibrahim’s Ibn Khladun Center would get too uppity in their criticisms of the regime, directors would be arrested and thrown in prison. Even though nothing came of most of the cases (if you call Saad’s seven months in jail “nothing”), the arrests and detentions had a chilling effect on the activities of all such organizations. Perhaps the same thing holds true here: although it seems unlikely any state employee involved will get more than a slap on the wrist, the knowledge that ordinary citizens can and will bring charges against state television and the police may lead to a “chilling effect” on their public activities.

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