CAIRO — The Egyptian government’s National Press Authority (NPA) is implementing a reform and restructuring plan for national press institutions to pay back their debts accumulated over the years.
According to an article published by Youm7 on April 25, 2018, the plan includes exploiting the unutilized assets of these institutions, such as the rental of vacant buildings, reducing the costs of newspaper issues and increasing revenues from advertising. The aim is to close the funding gap of these institutions.
On March 5, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly discussed the plans for the development of government-affiliated press institutions, as well as their dues to government agencies with the ministers, including Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali, Minister of Planning Hala al-Saeed, Minister of Finance Mohammed Moeit, Minister of Business Sector Hisham Tawfik and the head of the National Press Organization, Karam Gaber.
On the same day, Madbouly issued a statement noting that these institutions owe a lot of money to the state’s taxing authority and the social security authority. He called on those in charge of these institutions to show a willingness to improve since the state has provided them with significant financial support.
NPA representative Abdullah Hassan noted on April 25, 2018, that the total debt of the national press institutions amounted to 19 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.10 billion).
According to the latest statistics on newspapers by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, published in 2015, Egypt has eight national press institutions, which publish 56 printed newspapers and magazines.
Government spokesman Nader Saad said in a March 5 TV interview with Sada Elbalad that some reforms the national press institutions must undertake include reducing the number of publications for each press establishment, investing in electronic journalism and exploiting the assets of these institutions to deal with arrears accumulated over the years.
Journalist Muhammad Hassan al-Banna published a study Dec. 11, 2018, in which he said that the most prominent problems national press institutions are undergoing are accumulated debts, surplus employees, reduced sales, lack of advertising resources and absence of proper staff training.
“This requires real reform instead of temporary remedies and aid from the state since the latter cannot provide unlimited support forever. Self-reform is required,” Saad said, noting that a meeting will be held soon — without specifying a date — between Madbouly and NPA head Karam Gabr to discuss optimal utilization of the assets of these institutions to help solve their issues.
The NPA will be in charge of implementing the national press reform plan, according to Article 212 of the Egyptian Constitution, which stipulates that “the National Press and Media Association is independent, manages state-owned press and media institutions, and undertakes their development and assets, ensuring independence, neutrality and adherence to sensible professional, administrative and economic standards.”
Mahmoud Alamuddin. journalism professor at Cairo University and NPA member, told Al-Monitor that the press industry in Egypt is facing a severe crisis, suffering a sharp drop in the distribution figures compared to the beginning of this century, as well as a decline in advertising revenues and lack of credibility and influence compared to today’s social media, and television and radio before that.
He explained that the plan to develop the Egyptian newspapers includes press content so that it can address the real needs and interests of readers, especially the young generations, and staff working in this field. In addition, modern printing and publishing methods, through national training centers in cooperation with international consulting firms, would be adopted.
Alamuddin stressed the need to modernize the production structure of the press industry, particularly related to electronic publishing systems, creating websites and online newspapers, instead of relying entirely on the paper press, and to conduct in-depth studies on the Egyptian public and how it uses traditional and new media. In addition, existing equipment should be replaced with new equipment.
The NPA’s reform plan has raised concerns among some journalists about the possibility of merging newspapers that suffered financial losses.
“The government took a shortcut when it came to structuring national press institutions instead of taking proper development routes. The government spokesman announced the possibility of merging some newspapers while he ought to have taken reform measures for the development of institutions at the administrative and editorial level,” member of the Journalists Syndicate Amr Badr told Al-Monitor.
He said, “Merging or shutting down some newspapers within national institutions would be applying for the first time NPA law No. 179 of 2018, which we had opposed when it was being discussed in parliament.”
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified this law on Aug. 31, 2018. The law gave the NPA the right to merge or shut down newspapers, in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of Chapter II, which provided for “merging institutions and shutting down or merging newspapers within the same institution.”
Badr added, “National press institutions are capable of reform, but we must start by developing the editorial material published by these newspapers in order to reflect the citizen in a realistic way, as well as increasing sales and advertising. But officials in these institutions never paid enough attention to this matter.”
The NPA has not yet announced a proposal to merge any newspapers.
Badr called for the Journalists Syndicate to be a party to any steps to merge some newspapers or shut down others to ensure the rights of journalists.
Sherif Darwish Allabban, deputy of the faculty of journalism at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that national press institutions have several issues when it comes to funding. He explained that they also offer the same discourse and readers do not have access to different newspapers offering different views to choose whatever suits them best.
“Content is almost identical in all national newspapers and does not show any effort to address real topics of interest to citizens. They no longer offer different news coverage as they did in the past and this is why newspapers are no longer selling as much, nor are they improving,” he said.
Allabban supports merging some newspapers that have similar content or even shutting down others if they are no longer selling, to make sure there is enough funding for successful newspapers.
“These institutions should be developed with the will of their staff that needs to focus on new types of journalism," he concluded.
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