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Egypt to launch regional news channel

Egypt is planning on launching a regional news channel, including joint projects and productions with Saudi Arabia.
Egyptian prime minister with TV presenter

Egypt is getting ready to launch a regional news channel during the first quarter of 2020.

During a press conference May 29, the deputy director of the production company United Media Services, Houssam Saleh, said, “The studios have been equipped, and the work mechanism has been set. With its soft power, Egypt deserves to have an international channel.”

In 2019, Reuters published a report in which it indicated that United Media Services was affiliated with the state. Reuters cited industry and government sources as saying that the company’s board members include some who have links to the General Intelligence Service. Former member of parliament and cinema director Khaled Youssef told Reuters back then that the government has started to meddle with drama and media content through United Media Services, and has pushed out private production companies to exert control over TV dramas.

Pro-regime Egyptian media channels praised Egypt’s launch of a regional news channel. Egyptian TV talk show host Amr Adib said during his show on MBC on May 29, “Egypt is on the verge of a huge and important media project, which constitutes a challenge for the state,” in reference to the new regional channel.

Adib said, “Launching a regional news channel is the work of the state, not the private sector. For that reason, Egypt needs a news channel that not only publishes Egypt’s news, but also relays the news to the world and the Arab nation according to Egyptian interests, just like Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, has done.”

He added, “The challenge for the news channel is to secure steady funding, without waiting for any financial returns, and managing to publish and disseminate news.”

He continued, “The next stage would be to launch an English-speaking Egyptian news channel to address the West, in line with Egyptian interests, just like Qatar’s Al Jazeera English.”

He said, “Egypt has journalistic and media staff adept to launch a regional news channel that addresses the region in Arabic.”

Adib called for examining all means available to secure sufficient funding to launch the new channel.

United Media Services has recently undergone radical changes in management, and a new board of directors has been appointed. In a report published May 24, Mada Masr newspaper said losses incurred by TV series produced by the company for Ramadan prompted the reshuffling.

Egypt’s new media inclination and the change in the structure of the company's board as well as the announcement of a regional news channel coincided with an Egyptian-Saudi media partnership. United Media Services signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation with MBC Saudi Arabia channels May 30.

On May 24, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met in Cairo with Turki al-Sheikh, adviser to the Saudi royal court and chairman of the board of directors of the General Entertainment Authority. According to the Egyptian presidency, the two agreed to boost cooperation between the two countries in the investment and entertainment fields.

On May 28, Adib said on MBC Saudi Arabia that Sheikh was excited to meet Sisi, and that there will be official joint cooperation between the Egyptian and Saudi Arabian media and arts bodies.

Adib added, “Egypt and Saudi Arabia will cooperate to activate joint activities and joint productions, including 60 series and 15 plays, not to mention concerts and media cooperation.”

During his visit to Cairo, Sheikh also met with a delegation of Egyptian media figures and artists May 28. Following the meeting, Sheikh said, “Saudi Arabia’s arts bodies and their Egyptian counterparts will have joint cooperation soon, not to mention wide cooperation in drama, music and media.”

Egypt tried to launch a regional news channel in 2018, but it failed, according to an October 2018 Mada Masr report that said, “The General Intelligence Service froze its attempts to launch DMC News, an Egyptian news channel with great potential, as the service failed to secure the necessary funding for the channel.”

The report added, “The Egyptian intelligence service negotiated with Sheikh to fund the channel,” but without material success.

The report further said, “Several sessions were held at the intelligence headquarters between Egyptian intelligence officials and Sheikh to convince him to fund a channel that would relay Saudi and Egyptian policies and would broadcast from Cairo, with Egyptian staff and Saudi funds to confront the Qatari media sprawl.”

Tarek Fahmy, a professor of political science at the University of Cairo, said, “Egypt needs a regional news channel that expresses its interests and positions and defends its policy toward regional issues.”

He told Al-Monitor, “Egypt faced during the past period a deliberate attack and campaign by some news channels to tarnish the country’s image, in light of the absence of an Egyptian regional news channel enjoying wide coverage in the region and the Arab world.”

He added, “The Egyptian plan to launch the regional news channel faces several challenges, the most important of which is providing funding without waiting for any [financial] returns, and providing qualified media cadres.”

He continued, “The success of the new channel will be part of a new Egyptian media strategy to consolidate its influence and defend its interests in the region. The next stage will be the launch of an English-speaking news channel to address the West on behalf of the Egyptian state.”