How to improve Egypt's media law

Abdel Latif El-Menawy, the former head of Egyptian state TV who now heads Al Ghad Al Arabi satellite TV, explained in an interview with Al-Monitor why the Egyptian media has deviated from its role, and what the field needs now.

al-monitor Anti-government protesters wave flags in front of the state TV building on the Corniche in Cairo, Feb. 11, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Dylan Martinez.
Walaa Hussein

Walaa Hussein

@walaahuseen

Topics covered

tv, media, hosni mubarak, freedom of press, egyptian revolution, egyptian politics, egyptian media, egypt protests

Dec 4, 2015

CAIRO, Egypt — The book "Tahrir: The last 18 days of Mubarak," published in 2012, revealed what was secretly going on behind the scenes prior to President Hosni Mubarak’s famed resignation speech on Feb. 11, 2011. Most important among this information is the disassociation of the Egyptian military and intelligence services from the Mubarak administration. 

Abdel Latif El-Menawy, the author of the book and the former head of the news department at Egyptian state TV, says he revealed "what he was able to say at the time" of what he was privy to in his association with decision-making circles.

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor on Nov. 12, Menawy said, “What I have witnessed is included in the book … I have done what I felt is necessary.”

Menawy, currently the head of Al Ghad Al Arabi satellite TV station, said that there is no such thing as unbiased media, because media work is not charity. He added that there is, however, what could be deemed “professional media work,” and stressed that the media in Egypt has deviated from its role, given the disorientation within the Egyptian state, and that media activities need to be controlled by "a law that regulates, not restricts, freedom of press."

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  Al Ghad Al Arabi is the first satellite news channel to broadcast from Cairo. How has it overcome the obstacles that face Arab satellite channels in acquiring broadcast licenses? How much funding does the channel receive, who are the funding parties and what is the objective behind it? 

Menawy:  We have submitted the necessary documents to the officials. There were not any unusual issues in the license issuance. The funding is largely provided by an Arab Emirati party. Politician Mohammed Dahlan is [also] a financier. The main objective of the company’s financiers group, which owns the channel, is their belief that there must be a channel that objectively expresses the Arab reality as much as possible. It is an Arab news channel broadcasting from Cairo and London at the same time.

Al-Monitor:  You have said that your programs will be enlightening in the face of extremism. How will the programs on political Islam differentiate between the Islamic State, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists?

Why did you choose Lebanon as a country to broadcast from every morning?

Menawy:  It is a news channel. Therefore, the news and news coverage are the focus. We are against all forms of extremism. Nevertheless, once there is a topic that has news value, and a perspective regarding this topic requires a particular position to be expressed — be it of the far-right or far-left — this position can be therefore raised and discussed. This is provided that the channel is not used as tool by a particular faction, whose appearance would be seen as a challenge to the public opinion.

In addition to Cairo, Lebanon was chosen to broadcast the morning shows from, because there is a space of freedom there and the required technologies are available. Our objective is that the morning show be an outlet to the various Arab countries.

Al-Monitor:  Why is there always a link between Mubarak’s resignation speech in 2011 and you? Does your book include everything that happened behind the scenes, while you were close to the decision-makers at the time? Are there any other issues that remained confidential?

Menawy:  I was running the Egyptian state TV, as head of the news department, and in one way or another I had become a party and actor involved in the events. This is because I know many parties within the state and I am associated with many people. In addition, I was responsible for what was or was not going to be broadcast on TV. Therefore, things were linked to each other at that time, particularly Mubarak’s resignation, behind which there was a story. The various forces were present in the street. In politics, each party tries to control television or to have a presence there. There were attempts by several parties to break into the TV building, considering it a symbol of the state. My colleagues who remained in the state TV building [some fled and stayed home due to the security situation at the time] and I made a decision and succeeded in preventing Egyptian state TV from being blacked out. This was a reason why we turned into a party in the conflict taking place between the parties.

I was done with the book, which includes what happened in June 2012. It reflects the image that I was able to provide at that time. I believe that it consists of what I witnessed. Unfortunately, there were not many testimonies on this issue back then. I have done what I felt is necessary.

Al-Monitor:  How do you assess the human rights situation in Egypt, while a number of journalists are either behind bars or banned from broadcasting their shows?

Menawy:  The state of confusion that prevailed in Egyptian society caused all parties to act nervously. The parties that were active in the street defied the laws [regulating demonstrations], which they reject, by resorting to illegitimate methods. In contrast, the regime was also acting nervously as it was resolving its situation. A tense situation had prevailed, and I think that when relative stability is reached, things will be better, and there won’t be any talk of restrictions imposed on journalists or media figures staying at home. 

Al-Monitor:  In light of the difficulties that journalists at Egyptian private newspapers and satellite channels have faced, how do you perceive the future of the Egyptian media? What are the lessons that Al Ghad Al Arabi learned from its mistakes to be able to carry on?

Menawy:  The situation in Egypt is one thing, and that of Al Ghad Al Arabi is another. Applying absolute professional standards to the Egyptian media is probably unfair. As a result of the political, social and economic situation and extreme instability in the community, all parties have deviated from their natural role, including the media. The journalists have also deviated from their role, and have acted based on the logic that they are not mere journalists, but also opinion-makers who have a stance on their own and political activists. What is required is to control media performance through a law that regulates, not restricts, freedom of press. Unfortunately, this issue has not been clearly placed on the agenda of those ruling the country, nor objectively by the journalists. Al Ghad Al Arabi is designed to provide a professional service. I used the term professional, because we must admit that there is no such thing as unbiased media. Rather, there is professional media work, because media is not an act of charity.

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