Egyptian television broadcast regulatory framework: Challenges and opportunities
20 Sep 20120 comments
The broadcast media in Egypt has long been considered the government’s mouthpiece reflecting and prioritising the president's activities while ignoring other important topics. This paper observes that although Egypt has been defined as a transitional democracy, following the January 25 revolution, the broadcast media remains under the government’s control. The author emphasises that Egypt should follow the suit of many other transitional democracies and convert to an independent model that meets international standards, and proposes a governance model to enable a free and independent media.
The article identifies four key mechanisms used by the Egyptian government to control and influence the country’s media: centralised control, funding, the lack of an independent legal framework, and the government’s ownership of the broadcast media sector and the controller. It highlights the deficiencies created in the regulatory framework by these mechanisms because the State plays the roles of owner, regulator and controller.
Allam introduces the background and current status of the broadcast media in Egypt, operated by the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), a government arm affiliated with the Ministry of Information. She explains that since its introduction, the ERTU has been used by the Egyptian government to restrict media freedom, in the knowledge that the media has a strong influence on Egyptian citizens due to the high rate of illiteracy in the country. Additionally, the Egyptian media and broadcast laws lack the main criteria that would enable the existence of an independent media system, and their language lacks clarity, resulting in the abuse of these laws by the government.
The proposed governance model outlines the main policies and regulations to enable a free and independent media. It aims to convert the State-owned media to a public service broadcasting system to ensure the provision of content of public value, and to regulate private broadcasters to ensure that they offer diverse programming that is representative of all groups in society. The regulations relate to ownership, to encourage the development of other types of broadcasters in order to enrich the audience viewing experience, a legal framework to guarantee protection for journalists, and the establishment of an independent regulatory body that issues licenses, sets program codes and imposes sanctions to prevent the exercise of political and economic pressures.
The television sector plays a crucial role in the formation of democratic societies and in the shaping and the transmission of social values. It can be seen as similar to a cultural industry where there should be a well defined policy that enables the market broadcaster operators to implement a management strategy (European audiovisual observatory-yearbook 2011).
All domestic broadcast media are run by the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU). ERTU is a government arm, affiliated with the Ministry of Information. It was formed and operates under Law 13 of 1979, last modified by Law 223 of 1989.
In total, the ERTU brings around 22 television stations: two national television stations (Channel One, Channel Two), six local channels; three satellite channels (the free-to-air Egyptian Satellite Channel (ESC), and the Nile TV international, which is a transnational broadcasting channel); and finally, there are the Nile Television Network (NTN), which includes 11 specialized channels. These specialized channels include: Nile News, Nile Drama, Nile Life, Nile Sport, Nile for family and children, Nile culture, Nile Enlightenment, Nile for scientific research, Nile Educational, Nile for Higher education, and Nile Cinema (ERTU Yearbook, 2009).
Since its introduction, the Egyptian government has imposed restrictions over the media as the government was aware of the media’s great influence on the Egyptian citizens due to the high rate of illiteracy (Rugh, 2004).
With the new technological developments and the exposure to hundreds of satellite channels, the continuous wrestling between the governments owned media and the Egyptian private satellite media has extensively increased. Also, the idea of governance hierarchies is challenged in the new globalized media markets, which threatens the government owned television system with its politicized content and high degree of bureaucratic structure, and act as a pressure for looking towards a restructured model.
After the January 25 revolution, Egypt has been defined as a transitional democracy, where poltitcal, economic, social and media reform are taking place and as it happens in many of the transitional democracies, the broadcast media system that is owned by the government should be reformed to meet internatinal standards. Yet, many deficiencies still exist on the terrestrial broadcasting channels hindering the Egyptian system to reach independency. First, the ERTU lacks economic indpendency due to the heavy commercial interference, and through the government subsidy; secondly, management deficiency because of the political interference that is practiced in all the managerial procedures as the system is quite centralized requiring the consensus of the ERTU head who is appointed by the President and has to follow the government agenda, in addition to the bureaucratic mechanistic structure; third, there is a lack of an independent legal framework that guarantees free access to information and help the media to act as a watchdog for the soicety; accordingly, a lot of the messages are politicized in different programs, such as news, talk shows, current affairs and even sports. Finally, there is no program/content framework that defines the remits (codes or content requirement that meets the democratic, social and cultural needs of the society) by which the broadcasters should abide by for content reuglations (Mytton, 1992).
The Egyptian government monopoly over television affects the existence of an independent and free system as it intervenes with the number of suppliers and the consolidation of financial resources. Although media monopolies lead to large economies of scale and scope, it has several drawbacks, such as bottlenecks and gateway monopolies (Doyle, 2002). Countries that experience state ownership monopoly, like Egypt, are classified under the term ‘Polarized Pluralist’ states. This state ownership leads to many deficiencies in the broadcast industry where the electronic media is centralized, commercial media has been introduced lately, standard of professionalism are not highly adapted or practiced; state ownership is considered a threat because the state plays the role of the owner, the regulator and the controller; main funding comes from the state’s subsidy, and accordingly the capacity or the financial resources to sustain growth is often limited (Hallin& Mancini, 2004).
II. STATE OWNERSHIP AND ECONOMY DEPENDENCY
Funding is one of the main factors that affect the independency of the Egyptian television industry. The Egyptian state owned television is mainly funded through government subsidies and advertisements’ revenues, and because of the lack of transparency and internal corruption, the government owned media have deficits that reaches almost LE 12 billion in 2011, according to the media policy organization report (IFES, 2007).
The Egyptian government controls the media through two main funding mechanisms, which are subsidies and advertisements revenues; these two means are used to exercise political and commercial interference over the content (McDonnell, 1991).
Although the government subsidy may be a mechanism of producing high quality programs that attract large segments of audience as it lessens the amount of money paid by the producers and the amount of tax paid by the consumers, yet it can act, through this support, in a hidden way to support one group or one media over the other. (Price and Krug, 2002, Doyle 2002).
The government subsidy as a funding mechanism is considered the main political threat that ranges from direct interference by the government or political figures to the campaign by a small section of opinion for some particular political end (McDonnell, 1991). The government as a market participant can structure the government in a way that favour one media over the other. One good example is through the placement of advertisements. The government can place the advertisements in the media that are supporting only its opinion. Moreover, state broadcasting that receives its subsidies from the government may undercut its position to reduce or prevent the private or public media in the market from advertisements making it difficult for a freer media to develop.
Thus, depending to a large extent on the government subsidy may have adverse effects on the quality of the content and leads to a disturbance in the market structure because the state monopoly over the broadcasting sector is equivalent to the existence of one private player, and both hinders the diversity of opinions and the establishment of democratic institutions (Price and Krug, 2002).
As for the advertisements’ revenues mechanism, it is considered the second threat to the independency of the Egyptian television industry and the quality of the goods (programs) as it performs under a state owned media system that monopolizes the market.
Advertisements are considered to be a kind of competitive behaviour; firms spend huge amounts of money to convince the consumer to buy their products and therefore increase sales, which is the main goal of any firm.]. The more the advertisement that positively affects the behaviour of the consumers, the more the firm is willing to pay more to the television station to keep its influence on the consumers (Doyle, 2002).
These revenues should be invested in improving the quality of television programs in order to attract more audience. The Egyptian state owned media has a quite large share of advertisements compared to the Egyptian private satellite stations, yet the quality of the programs are not yet improved due to the political pressure exercised by the government over the content, and accordingly the deficit is on the rise. Yet, it is worth mentioning that many advertisers favor to broadcast in the Egyptian state owned media because the government favors special advertisers to whom it reduces the 36 percent tax on advertisements or sometimes it schedules the tax payments, which affects in a way the private television sector to develop (MSI, 2006). It also stands as an obstacle for other media outlets to develop, such as public, commercial or community broadcasting.
III. OWNERSHIP REGULATIONS
Ownership regulations affect the existence of a balanced system as they give room for other types of broadcaster to develop. As mentioned before, all the terrestrial television broadcasting system is controlled by the government, and any private television channels must go to the satellite broadcasting to operate. The situation remains unregulated because the private channels are given license by the governments; so they are still government dependent (MSI 2006).
The monopolized behavior of the Egyptian state owned media over the terrestrial broadcasting transmission, and the lack of the ownership rules, leads to the creation of a duopoly market, which is according to the Optimal Location theory, product differentiation decreases in duopoly markets because sellers will try to replicate the appealing type of programs to attract the largest number of buyers (Hotelling’s 1929).
Therefore, ownership regulations must be set to prevent the creation of barriers to entry and the formation of market monopoly or oligopoly, which affect the level of competition and the kind of programming that aims toward social and economic outcomes especially that the introduction of digital technology and the spectrum non-spectrum will increase the level of competition.
IV. STATE OWNERSHIP AND ABSENCE OF AN EFFICIENT LAW
Clear media laws are the corner stone that enable an independent media system to develop and flourish. (Price and Krug, 2002).
Media laws must be evaluated on the basis of how they help to establish media sensitive society. The first concern is about evaluating the language of law in terms of simplicity and clarity, dissemination and accessibility. The second concern is about the legal norms and which administration is to enforce laws and supervise them, which is concerned with ‘demarcation’ or conceptual separation of responsibilities between agencies that will ensure transparent and consistent criteria in the usage of legal norms. The third concern is the administration processes of the public administrators that must be characterized by fairness, impartiality and objectivity. (Price and Krug, 2002).
The Egyptian media law in general, and the broadcast law in particular, lack the main criteria that would enable the existence of an independent media system.
The language of the law lacks clarity, which leads to the abuse of these laws to protect the Egyptian government. The legal norms that mainly deal with the editorial aspect of the Egyptian media are mainly protecting the government and hindering the media to execute their main role as a watchdog (MSI 2006). For example, although Article 47 of the Egyptian constitution assures freedom of expression and that every citizen has the freedom of expression, and Article 48 guarantees freedom of the press system and the non-existence of censorship, yet the same Article, 48, states that in time of emergency, censorship might be imposed in order to maintain national security (MSI 2006).
These restrictions imposed have no defined scope for the terms emergency, which makes the government abuse its power to hinder certain information (IFES, 2007).
Laws that guarantee freedom of expression are invalid because there are other laws that stand against journalists’ accessibility to information. For example, Article 185, 303, and 307 are all enforcing punishments over journalists if they accuse any public officials of corruption or any misconduct. Egypt had signed many international conventions, such as Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s rights, yet none of these treaties have been integrated into the legal norms (MSI 2006).
The 186 laws are written in a way that imposes restrictions on the freedom of the media through censorship and maintaining media financial dependency on the Egyptian government. The laws can be considered tools that restrict media freedom (IFES, 2007).
As for accessibility of information, it is hindered due to the high level of bureaucracy that is practiced within the different institutions disabling the ease flow of information (IFES, 2007).
William Rugh, has classified the Egyptian media as being in a transitional stage (Rugh, 2004). For the transitional countries to be converted into developed and independent ones rules of media coverage and issues like liabilities incase of defamation and others must be well defined and stated (Price and Krug, 2002).
V. BROADCASTER LICENSE
The Egyptian government monopoly over the broadcast sector disables the existence of legal norms that define competition in the broadcast sector, assign television frequencies and signals to operators. For example, a free and independent media environment should operate in a country where the issues of licensing are transparent and are chosen according to a given criteria (Price and Krug, 2002).
However, the General Authority for Investment, which is a government affiliated body, is the main body that issues license for private broadcasters and control the entire process. Thus, there is a lack of clear administrative procedures for fair and objective issuing of licenses and assigning of frequencies to the broadcasters; and the criteria are neither transparent nor clear regarding the bases they are chosen upon (MSI 2006).
VI. A FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT LAW
Different international reports have set the main lines for evaluating the efficacy of laws and their role to promote an independent media system. The main factor that might stand against journalists’ access is having non-accredited journalists, closing public institutions and the press and hindering access to databases, such as imposing tax on Internet Service Providers. According to ARTICLE 19, the access to information as an enabler for an independent media requires the application of three aspects. First, there should be a positive structural aspect of access to information. It means that a legislative body should establish the freedom of information framework and allow journalists to have the right of accessing judicial proceedings. Any exception to the freedom of access to information must be stated in the law. Also, the structure of the language used in the law must be quite clear. Rules should be set to protect journalists from being accused of any criminal civil or administrative liability. Second, there are operational aspects that foster states to create an independent media system. For example, there should not be high costs imposed on the access of information and the procedures of obtaining certain documents should be clear. Third, there should be means to enforce the right to access information; for example, sanctioning the entity that refuses to disclose documents (Price and Krug 2002, ARTICLE 19, 2006).
Another enabler for creating an independent media system within the context of news gathering is having access to government proceedings and institution. Not only access to documents, but also observing and reporting about the working of the governmental bodies, such as courts and legislative bodies are important for enabling the environment. This includes also the assumption of openness and the importance of stating its limitations. The law should state the right of journalists to access legislative proceedings as the public should be fully informed about any changes taking place in the legal norms. In Egypt, journalists who work in governmental media entities have priority of access to information and events, than those in the private sector, which acts as a control to the assumption of openness (IFES, 2007). Also, the laws should also state the sources of information, yet sometimes they must be aware that the sources should be anonymous. In addition, licensing of journalists should be done through an independent body to avoid the possibility in which the government might interfere and license only the journalists who praise the government. In Egypt, certain activities of the President and the Ministers cannot be covered unless given consensus through the Ministry of Information (MSI 2006).
Another aspect of the legal framework is the regulation of content. First of all, all laws must be based on a fundamental proposition which is the freedom of expression. The forms of content regulation are done by having a pre-public review where there should be systems to monitor the information before being published, yet punishment should be imposed on any entity which stands against freedom of information and against the right of public to be informed, as long as individual interests are not harmed. Another content regulation enabler is the protection of state interests. Most of the governments prohibit the disclosure of certain information due to National security reasons and to prevent public disorder. Thus, a government has to state clearly how a disclosure of certain information could be considered a threat to the public, such as speeches that promulgate hate, violence or disorder in the society. Although the law in Egypt ensures the right to receive and impart information, yet under the Law 96 of 1996, Article 9 states that unless the information is classified as secret, it can be used. Under the Egyptian Law there is no clear definition of the term ‘secret’, which makes it a gateway for the government to prevent the prevailing of certain information to the public (MSI 2006). Regulations of content are applied also to the elections where there should be equal access of candidates to the media outlets, and objectivity of broadcasters in covering news or information about candidates. Also, the coverage of the elections campaigns must be based on certain criteria that are fair, objective, balanced and impartial.
Another content regulation enabler is the protection of human interests. There should be a clear distinction about news media freedoms and defamation issues. This is because if rules that guarantee news media freedom do not exist, defamation law will be used as a tool to suppress the flow of certain issues and will force journalists to use self censorship. Defamation laws are always found in criminal codes, civil codes and tort law provision. As mentioned, the Egyptian media laws suffer from clarifying this aspect, as Article 185 states that any insult to a public official can expose journalists to one year prison, at least (IFES, 2007).
Similar to the defamation law, insult laws must be clearly defined and prohibited only if the information written by journalists does not have any importance and aims to injure the victim. Otherwise, it can be a tool for hindering journalists from publishing information. Protection of individuals’ privacy should not be a mean of hindering information about individuals who violate the rules. The right of reply concept is quite important as well to ensure objectivity of the media outlets. It means that if any media outlet publishes information harming the legal rights or interests of individual, an outlet has to apply the right of reply and correction concept. The Right of reply is to publish the response of the offended body, and the right of correction is that the media outlet publishes correction by itself, correcting the offending statement (Price & Krug 2002, Article 19, 2005).
Therefore, Egypt is to establish a framework that would preserve the media’s independency and freedom.
VII. ORGANIZATIONAL INDEPENDENCE
The organizational independence is mainly measured by the managerial line, which is mainly composed of the degree of specialization, degree of formalization, degree of decentralization, size of organization, the appointment’s of members, and the duration time. These components define the organizational structure (Robbins, 2003).
The governance structure of the ERTU can be classified as a typical bureaucracy structure where the tasks performed within the organization are achieved through a high degree of specialization under very formalized and strict rules. Such a high degree of formalization disables employees to get engaged in alternative behaviors or even think of alternatives. Although a primary strength of bureaucracy is to perform the standardized activities in a highly efficient and professional manner (Robbins, 2003), yet the outcome of the activities performed at the ERTU is of a very poor quality and does not offer any potentials compared to the competitive surrounded environment. Departmentalization also is divided upon functions where the goals of the organization sometimes override (World Bank, 1994).
This goes to the reason that bureaucratic institution has less talented, less costly managers who range between the lower and the middle classes. The decision making process in the ERTU is very centralized and falls completely in the hands of the ERTU head who is appointed by the Minister of Information (Amin, 1996). Such a centralized system disables the adaptation of new policies.
The ERTU appointment procedures are characterized by being centralized as well. The ERTU operates under the Minister of Information, and the head is chosen by the President of the Egyptian Republic., then the Ministry of information chooses most of the members and a small number is appointed by the Council of Ministers which appoints members from different sectors to maintain diversity, such as lawyers, artists, judges, etc….yet, although these members are chosen to ensure internal pluralism, most of them are chosen on the bases to be supporting to the ruling regime in order to apply the political agenda of the regime (MSI 2006). Most of the members of the board of trustees are appointed by the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, and they are chosen on the bases of favoritism in order to follow the governmental agenda; so the broadcast media in Egypt is considered an the government’s mouthpiece reflecting the president's activities giving them the first priority on the agenda and ignoring other important topics (Amin, 1996).
This mechanistic structure is the result of the cost minimization strategy where there are no plans for innovation to provide distinctive programs to compete with the surrounding environment. Environmental variables as well discourage any changes. This is because the market is not competitive due to the government monopolization over the whole sector disabling other rivals to enter the market and compete; and this encourages the cost minimization strategy (Boyd, 2003).
This is not to say that bureaucracy is dead; it is still alive because of its ability to manage large scale of activities. Organizations maintain bureaucratic structure because at times of environmental uncertainties, the impact of these uncertainties is reduced by following management strategies, such as strategic alliances and environment scanning (Robbins, 2003). Although the goals of bureaucratic structured organization can be achieved by hiring people after going through intensive education training programs, yet the ERTU has poor internal training programs, which is integral for the staff development (MSI 2006). According to the World Bank, the poor management which is characterized by unfair legal system leads to the existence of bureaucracies that are neither accountable nor reliable (World Bank, 1994).
Because the organizational structure of the ERTU is characterized by inefficiency (Boyd, 2004), and the decision making is centralized in the hands of the ERTU head who usually follows the governmental agenda, and because the television system lacks an independent regulatory body to monitor and regulate the market, the performance of journalists and the degree of editorial independence are negatively affected. For example, in Egypt, most of the journalists are practicing self censorship and they always praise the government because of the existence of certain laws, such as the Penal code law, where anyone can be jailed anytime. In 2005, because some journalists defame public officials and talk about corruption executed by private individuals, 34 journalists were put into prison and were to pay fines, according to human rights groups’ record (MSI 2006).
VIII. THE PROPOSAL MODEL
Television is a medium that most of the Egyptian population depends on as it has a powerful impact on them. Keeping the Egyptian government ownership over the television sector with the centralized ERTU structure enables the government to maintain its control over the content and affect the degree of pluralism and diversity.
The corner stone of the proposed model is the establishment of an independent regulator. The regulator’s relationship with different sectors aims towards ensuring independency for the Egyptian television broadcasting sector and enforcing measurements that would regulate the market.
The model also proposes a restructure of the Egyptian television landscape where public service broadcasting should be introduced, in addition to a re-structure for the sects that the ERTU controls. The graph proposes that the ERTU should be converted into a holding company where different investors will hold shares to ensure that the ownership does not fall within the hands of the government and no political pressure is exercised. Accordingly, the re-structure requires a change in the different sects the ERTU controls, such as the terrestrial channels, NTN channels, satellite channels and the production sector.
The terrestrial channels include the two main national networks and the six local channels. The two national networks, according to the proposed model, should be converted into public service channels, and the local ones should be converted into a joint-stock company where the local channels should be privatized with different kinds of ownership (mixed, private, community).
Also, the NTN channels should be converted into a joint stock company in order to perform separately from the government ownership. As for the satellite channels owned by the ERTU should be converted into private ones and should abide by the regulations set by the regulatory body.
This model aims for the restructuring of the ERTU to enable independency to the Egyptian television sector. A holding company will also lessen the burden of the budget deficit that the ERTU experiences.
1. Recommended policies:
A dual system of public and private broadcasters:
- The conversion of the ERTU into a holding company is essential where the national terrestrial channels to be converted into public broadcasters as an integral element for democracy and cultural integration.
- Strategic plans should be set and implemented to educate citizens about the role of public service broadcasting and its importance in the new commercialization environment.
- Local channels should be converted into private broadcasters.
- Private broadcasters should be given licenses based on transparent criteria known to the public.
- The government should issue a law on the “Right to access of Information” with well defined articles that guarantee journalists the right to inform the public.
- There should be means to enforce the right to access information. e.g. sanctions to entities that refuse documents’ disclosure.
- High costs should not be imposed to enable journalists to obtain documents.
- Journalists should have access to legislative proceedings as public has the right to be informed about any changes in the legal norms.
- There should be conceptual separation of responsibilities between agencies to support the growth of the broadcasting enterprises.
- The government should set clear definitions to differentiate between media freedoms and defamation issues.
- Laws should clarify how would the disclosure of certain information could be a threat to public order and should avoid using vague terms such as ‘public disorder’ and ‘national security’ to suppress information disclosure and media freedoms.
3. Regulatory Body:
- A regulatory body with an independent administrative authority is important to regulate and monitor the Egyptian television sector to avoid government interference.
- The Parliament should ensure the independence of the NBRA through a legislative framework that guarantees independence.
- Licensing should be executed by the regulator in order to avoid political influence. Also, criteria of choice should be publicly known to ensure transparency.
- The regulator should establish content codes to define news impartiality, balance and editorial standards.
- The regulator should set rules for media ownership expansion and cross-ownership.
4. Funding mechanisms:
- With the adaptation of public service broadcasting, a mixed funding framework should be established to ensure the independency of the public broadcasters through setting a government grant, and the management of advertisements through an advertising agency to limit the political or economic pressures that have been exercised over the content in the Egyptian television.
- For the private broadcasters, the advertising agency should also manage the advertisements’ distribution among the private broadcasters to avoid conflict of interest or economic pressures.
5. Private Broadcasters:
- A competition law should be established to promote fair competition between broadcasters and prevent the creation of monopolists in the market or the intention to serve specific businesses.
- The regulator should encourage many broadcasters to enter the market in order to ensure pluralism.
- A ‘Monopolist’ definition should be defined according to the audience share.
- A ‘Dominant position’ in the market should be defined to protect pluralism and market competition.
6. Content Framework:
- A content code framework for the public service television should be established to ensure the provision of content of public value and to act as a contract that the broadcasters have to abide by when giving license by the regulator.
- Distinctiveness and innovation programs should characterize the public service television programs in order to attract audience and be distinguished from the ones depicted in the private channels.
- A flat governance structure should be adapted as it affects other elements, such as the application of technology and the decentralization of the decision making. A flat structure encourages also the application of innovative strategy.
In a nutshell, the proposed model aims for the conversion of the state owned media to public service broadcasting system to ensure the provision of content that of public value. It also aims to regulate the private broadcasters to ensure that they are not only offering the kind of programs that target specific segment in the society and ignoring the other sects. Ownership regulations are also important to encourage the development of other types of broadcasters in order to enrich the audience viewing experience. A legal framework is essential as well to guarantee protection for journalists, in addition to a regulatory body that issues the license, sets program codes and imposes sanctions to stand against the exercising of the political and economic pressures.
Rasha Allam is a young lawyer from Egypt currently working as a consultant for UNESCO, and with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty (FNF) as an international trainer for journalists in the Cairo-based Middle East News Agency (MENA). She is also an Annenberg-Oxford program alumni, and closely follows the situation of media in post-Mubarak Egypt in her weekly column for Alwatan, an independent daily newspaper. Rasha is very passionate about media management, such as laws and regulations, economics of the media, and on how media organizational structure affects their performance.
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