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Report - Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future

Report - Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future

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Published by OSFJournalism
Conference report from March 2011 conference on Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future in Cairo.
Conference report from March 2011 conference on Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future in Cairo.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: OSFJournalism on May 14, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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of the conference on 
Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future
held at the 
 Council Hall of the Supreme Council of Culture,Cairo Opera House Cultural Complex
30-31 March, 2011
Supreme Council of Culture
Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future
Executive Summary of Conference Proceedings 
The conference on Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future took place in Cairoon 30-31 March under the auspices of Professor Emad Abou Ghazi, Egypt’s Minister ofCulture, and the chairmanship of Dr Basyouni Hamada, Professor of Communication andPublic Opinion at Cairo University and Dr Naomi Sakr, Professor of Media Policy at theUniversity of Westminster, UK. The conference was attended by 59 media, communicationand law scholars and professionals from Egypt and 15 other countries (Bulgaria, Croatia,Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Jordan, Lithuania, Palestine, Romania, Serbia,South Africa, USA, UK: see Appendix 1), as well as groups of Egyptian university students,and was addressed by 30 speakers (Appendix 2) representing 19 institutions, includinguniversities, broadcasters, media production companies, non-governmental organisationsand one intergovernmental body (UNESCO).Debates took place in eight sessions (Appendix 3), the last of which produced a collectiveclosing statement (Appendix 4). Of the remaining seven sessions, some sought to extractlessons learned from previous democratisations or identify universal challenges ofestablishing and sustaining democratic media. Others focused on the Egyptian context,including how to create an enabling environment for media democratisation and ways ofdemocratising state-owned media. The summary that follows therefore encompassesfindings that have emerged internationally and may be relevant to the new situation in Egypt,while also addressing specifics of Egyptian media. It is based around four themes thatemerged from presentations and discussions.
1. Egyptian media need to enable Egyptian society to see itsel
The first line of argument was one that identified prerequisites for creating a situation inwhich media enable societies to see themselves — to see both the richness of their diversityand the dangers of inequality. Not all previous democratic transformations have lived up tothe promise of achieving radical change in social relations. One presentation demonstratedhow post-apartheid media in South Africa were implicated in a negotiated transformation thatpreserved elements of social relations forged under apartheid. Despite early advances intransforming broadcasting, progressive forces in South Africa did not remain mobilised forlong enough to prevent ‘rationalisation’ and retrenchment of the national public broadcaster,which involved dismantling its programme production and reducing local content. Meanwhilethe number of newspapers declined. As a result the country’s media transformation waspremised ‘largely on a commercial media model with limited public service top-up’, shapedby the ‘growing division of South Africa into a two-tier society of “haves” and “have-nots”.Because of the interplay between media commercialisation and social inequality, societybecame less able to ‘see itself’ or resolve its problems.
Egyptian conference participants who had experienced what they described as theatmosphere of common purpose, free expression, tolerance and inclusion amongrevolutionary protestors in Tahrir Square looked to a reconstructed media landscape toengage with the complexities of Egyptian society and embrace the possibilities for afundamental cultural re-imagining of the nation, difference, inclusion and citizenship. Variousstudies presented to the conference demonstrated how modes of representing gender, age,geography, piety, class, respectability and nationalism had been rigorously policed underMubarak’s authoritarian regime, leaving large swathes of society invisible ormisrepresented. There was strong agreement among speakers that editorially independentpublic service broadcasting should be a central pillar of Egypt’s future media landscape,being given the responsibility to reflect the nation’s diverse cultures, concerns andconstituencies truthfully and comprehensively.As highlighted in the conference closing statement’s reference to diversity of mediaownership, participants envisaged public service broadcasting operating in conditions of faircompetition alongside private commercial broadcasters and not-for-profit communitybroadcasters. Experts on the financing and regulation of public service broadcasters showedhow they can be legally required to represent all groups in society, irrespective of thosegroups’ purchasing power and attractiveness to advertisers. This requirement applies to allgenres of programming, not only news. But it is closely aligned with the journalist’sprofessional duty to serve the public by holding power to account, promoting transparencyand stimulating debate. It was pointed out that the conduct of a wide and inclusive publicconversation through the media helps to undermine prejudice and intolerance and therebyforge social cohesion. Moreover, the duties of a public service broadcaster can bebuttressed through a requirement on multiple broadcasters to provide public service content.Any frank and uninhibited public conversation depends on legal protection for free andresponsible speech, which in turn depends on strengthening the rule of law. The conferenceheard how a project in the Balkans in 2000-02 had helped media workers to overcome theirfear of speaking freely by protecting them against lawsuits for defamation, while alsoprotecting society against extremist speech. Another project, in which German journalistsshared their experience of self-regulation mechanisms with colleagues in Tajikistan, hadhelped to avert government imposition of laws that threatened to narrow the country’snewfound opportunities for speaking freely. It was recognised that the tasks of strengtheninglegal protections and professional development for media workers are interlinked. Anexposition of UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators (MDI) showed how the MDIcategories for assessing media freedom, independence and pluralism (namely: regulation,ownership, democratic discourse, professional capacity development and institution-building)are all equally important and must be considered holistically.2.
Egyptians need to see their media working for them without delay 
 Several speakers referred to the short window of opportunity that exists after the fall of anauthoritarian regime in which to put the prerequisites for media democratisation in place.Indeed, this sense of urgency explains why the conference organisers held it so soon afterEgypt’s 25
January Revolution had achieved some of its initial goals. For example, the

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