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The transformation of state-owned media into democratic media in Egypt A Road Map for Transforming State Broadcasting into Public Service Broadcasting. In Egypt, the time has come: there is now widespread support to drive through changes which lead to quality broadcasting and a media which is independent of the governing party. To oversimplify a very complex area, what is needed is a new Plan, drawn up in Egypt, by Egyptians, setting out the stages to go through, with a time-chart for implementation. • • • • • The first requirement is to define a new regulatory framework for broadcasting The second is to define the objectives for Public Service Broadcasting content The third is to define a governance framework which can deliver these objectives. The fourth requirement is to define the income sources for PSB content The fifth requirement is to set up widespread consultations about the draft Plan to ensure the widest possible support.
Currently, there is a state monopoly over terrestrial broadcasting in Egypt, exercised by a national agency, the Egyptian Radio and TV Union, which is subject to extensive government influence. In July 2008, a new draft Broadcast Law was published and it called for a National Audiovisual Broadcasting Regulation Authority, which would be subject to government control. It provided for the allocation of licenses to the highest bidder, rather than on the basis of community interest. So a different draft Broadcast Law now needs to be drawn up, providing for an independent broadcasting regulator, charged with serving the public interest.
Let us look now at a practical plan for full PSB in Egypt. There need not of course be only one Public Service Broadcaster: there can be a requirement for PSB content from all or a
range of broadcasters. It can be made a condition of their licence. The joy of this approach is that the licensees have to pay for it, rather than the public. However, it is not all that popular with commercial providers, and their agreement would need to be given before such a scheme would work. Or you can have a system by which public money to provide PSB content can be bid for by any broadcaster. This is not too popular with broadcasters as the contracts are usually 3-5 years which gives no guarantee of the continuity which they are argue is needed to invest in quality.
From conversation with opinion formers in Egypt, it is clear that the consensus is for one big full PSB. If so, then it is actually best to start with a new organisation, to distance it from old images and old practices and old thinking. In some countries, such as Latvia, the old state broadcaster was transformed into a PSB, but it has never shaken off its old image, and its audiences are low and it is struggling to command public respect and confidence. However, a successful transformation of an existing state broadcaster was achieved – initially - in South Africa. SABC was transformed from a white-dominated citadel to one appealing to, and staffed by, the new rainbow nation. Staff not happy to work in the new body were offered redundancy and quite a number took it, giving the new body the opportunity to recruit new fresh youngsters of the racial mix required. However, there have been many disputes in recent years over Board appointments and dismissals, with allegations of excessive closeness to the ruling party.
Having decided whether it is a rebuild or a new structure, the next thing is to define the Objectives. These have to reflect the local culture but there are some universal values which should be adhered to. These include: • Provide a free service of radio TV and modern media to virtually all the citizens of Egypt • • Ensure content to appeal to all sections of the public Provide a trusted source of fair and accurate news
Reflect the culture and values of the citizens Ensure that the output is independent from Government control and influence from any advertisers or sponsors
After defining the Objectives, the next task is to determine the Governance Framework which can deliver these Objectives. As I have already indicated, it is helpful if the new body is supervised by an Independent Broadcasting Regulator, rather than a Ministry of Information. Heading the PSB should be a Board whose duties include all the accounting procedures to establish whether the Objectives have been met and whether the money has been wisely spent to serve the public. Such Boards are often appointed by the Government but this has its dangers. The best possible formula for an independent Board is some sort of electoral process, and some members who are there ex officio for some non-Governmental appointees.
Income Source for the new PSB.
The aim should be:
a dedicated source of income, rather than taxation. There cannot be independence if the PSB is part of the Government budgeting and accounting system, with employees as Government civil servants. The income can come, however, in a regular Government grant, or from a dedicated tax, such as with Thailand’s Sin tax which devotes the income from alcohol and tobacco to the PSB. Or there can be a dedicated license fee, payable by all who receive the TV programmes. (The danger here in the long run is that as viewing via pc increases, the basis for the license fee will fade). In some countries, for ease of collection, this is added to something such as the electricity bill. Or one could go for the US model which is a small Government grant but with most of the money coming from what the PSB stations themselves can raise though sponsorship and donations. This works best in rich countries. But once the money is given to the PSB, it is up the PSB to decide how to spend it and to publish clear and regular accounts and reports detailing what it has gone on. Where the income comes out of Government taxation or from a licence fee or a dedicated
tax, there is a pressure point for Government influence. But this has been lived with over the years by many independent broadcasters, such as the BBC and ABC in Australia. Provided there is strong public support for the independence of the PSB, expressed through Members of Parliament, then the independence can be reasonably secure.
To win this kind of support, a range of broadcasting of appeal to all sections of the community is required, ranging from highbrow to lowbrow, so that the PSB is in the hearts of the people.
If commercial income is decided on, then there need to be clear rules separating the advertisers from programme content – no car manufacturer, for example, should be allowed to sponsor a programme about cars, or a drug manufacturer about health. This means the ad income goes into a central pot and the contact is between the advertiser and ad sales department rather than between the advertiser and the programme maker.
As the Plan for the PSB takes shape, it is essential to keep publishing drafts of the Plan – on the internet is cheap and easy – and setting up mechanisms to receive submissions from interested parties. This can include invitations to submit views via a website, or by post, and public meetings, and specific meetings set up with interest groups. Their submissions can also be published on the website and in printed progress reports. It should be an open, involving process, and then it has a good chance of reflecting the culture of the people it is set up to serve.
Finally, a word on the sources of help as Egypt goes down Transformation Road. There is an excellent report by Article 19 about future policy for broadcasting in Egypt, published in 2008. It is called Memorandum on the draft Egyptian Broadcast Law and much of it is still relevant. There is Eve Salomon’s Guidelines for Broadcasting Regulation downloadable from www.transformingbroadcasting.org.uk On the same website, which specialises in
giving sources of information about transforming broadcasting from state to PSB, are Mary Raine’s Editorial Guidelines. Then the Objectives of most of the major Public Service Broadcasters are on their own websites. The UNESCO website is good for general
information about PSBs. They have published many papers and booklets on PSB over the years. They have consistently supported PSB, through defining what is a PSB, setting the
intellectual framework, running conferences on citizen involvement in broadcasting and making small grants for PSB projects round the world. The site of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association is also useful. The EU website also has a lot about PSBs and is well worth a good look. Germany’s Dr There is also a Public Service Broadcasting Model Law by Rumphorst, published in 2007 to be found on
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