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 itself
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.