Arabs Rise for Rights, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Press Freedom

EGYPT: People-Funded TV Challenges Big Business

Emad Mekay

CAIRO, Aug 25 2011 (IPS) - Egypt’s most organised political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is tapping crowds as a new financing method for its nascent TV station and media outlets to be able to compete with well-oiled challengers in corporate and government- run media.

All television stations in Egypt are either owned by rich businessmen who made their wealth through close links to the former Hosni Mubarak regime, or by the government. The new financing model adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood could start a wave of public channels that resemble National Public Radio in the U.S. where the public, rather than the government or the rich, funds news content.

The group, that was once outlawed, has soft-launched its Misr 25, a round-the-clock general interest TV channel.

Named after the first day of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, it has been broadcasting non-stop footage of Tahrir Square flag-waving protests that unseated Mubarak after 30 years in office, all with patriotic songs eulogising the achievements of the Egyptian people.

Hazem Ghurab, a veteran journalist who is running the channel, says Misr 25 differs profoundly from its business-funded competitors. “Our funding is crowd-sourced,” he said in an interview. “Our model is the BBC and (Japan’s) NHK.”

Misr 25 owners hail from the Brotherhood’s vast pool of members across the country who each invest a small amount or make a donation.

“This way we are far more professional and far more independent than those owned by businessmen who can be easily manipulated, intimidated or bought by regimes,” said Ghurab, who last worked for Al Jazeera channel in Doha, Qatar.

On top of the public funding plan, Ghurab still sees major advertising market potential. People are waiting “impatiently”, he says, to watch the Muslim Brotherhood channel. He believes they also constitute a sizable untapped advertising market made of the pious, who were mostly ignored by the country’s business elite and the former regime.

Television critic Mohammed Said of Shashaty weekly says the new funding model adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood sets it apart from the wave of new channels that have launched or are being prepared for launch after the fall of Mubarak.

“Most of the new entrants in the market so far are business people who were in bed with the previous regime,” said Mohammed Said. “Their TV channels and the jobs they offer to reporters and top newspapers’ editors is their way of constructing a buffer zone between themselves and public oversight of their practices under Mubarak.”

After the success of the revolution and under public and media pressure, several corruption investigations were opened into the practices of the country’s business elite under Mubarak. Some are now in jail or face further probes. Some of the possessions obtained fraudulently under Mubarak were ordered by courts to be returned to the state.

Fearing further public scrutiny and more damage to their investments, many businessmen who were closely associated with the corrupt Mubarak regime and who had no experience in media ownership have rushed to set up their own channels and media outlets.

One of Egypt’s richest people, Naguib Sawiris, whose family made billions in telecommunications and construction under Mubarak, is sponsoring two new TV channels. The channels will join his media holdings such as the news and public affairs channel OTV. The family have shares in various local newspapers.

Mohammed Al-Amin Ragab, business partner of one of Mubarak’s business symbols, real estate tycoon Mansour Amer, who was a member of the now disbanded National Democratic Party that ruled Egypt for 30 years, has launched a suite of channels under the name Capital Broadcasting Center, CBC.

Businessmen such as Al-Amin and Sawiris join a family of other money barons who discovered the power of media holdings since the time of Mubarak.

Among them is Sayed Al-Badawi, a pharmaceutical tycoon turned media investor. He owns Al-Hayat channels line-up that initially rallied against the anti-Mubarak revolution.

Cement mogul Hassan Rateb, who owns Al-Mehwar television, devoted airtime to discredit democracy activists during the first days of the revolution as foreign agents paid by Jews, Israel and the United States.

The country’s state-owned media-services company, Media Production City, now reports unprecedented boom in business. All of its studios have been rented out. The company, which owns sprawling cinematic sets on the outskirts of Cairo, will now build even more studios to cater or the rising demand.

“It is old money at it again. Businessmen are just buying clout. It is a classic case of conflict-of- interest,” Mohammed Said of Shashaty said.

“This is why the crowd-sourced model of the Muslim Brotherhood promises to offer less biased news coverage than those channels owned by people who benefited under Mubarak. We are waiting to see what that will look like.”

Republish | | Print |