In a case that has been repeatedly occurring, a recent TV commercial by Vodafone Egypt was banned last week through a decision from the Supreme Council for Media (SCM).
In an official statement, the SCM said the ad contained phrases and scenes that were “not suitable for public taste, defied moral values, encouraged inappropriate behaviour, and displayed public indecency and language.”
The commercial featured famous sarcastic puppet “Abla Fahita” singing about different situations where customers struggle with using internet bundles.
Scenes in the commercial depicted half-naked men, a man sitting on a toilet, and a line in the song was about a teenager trying to view a “scandalous” video.
The company issued a statement on 22 December saying that it was not notified of the suspension but announced the withdrawal of its advertisement campaign until the situation is “clarified with concerned bodies.”
Although the content of the commercial could be debated between supporters and opponents, there was other more alarming media content which prompted the SMC to take action.
The couple of following examples will look at how the SMC implemented its role in regulating the media.
Lawyer suspended for promoting rape
On 25 November, the SMC issued a statement banning lawyer Nabih Al-Wahsh from appearing in broadcast or print media for three months.
The decision came “because he insulted women and encouraged their rape,” the SMC said.
In an October TV show, Al-Wahsh said it was a “national duty to rape women.” He argued that women wearing ripped jeans deserved to be sexually assaulted for “inviting” men to do so through their “indecent clothes.” In further press statements following public controversy, he defended his comments.
The National Council for Women Rights (NCWR) immediately filed a complaint against Al-Wahsh. An urgent trial was held and he was sentenced in December to three years in jail and a EGP 20,000 fine.
Moreover, the SMC stated in its decision that Al-Wahsh “lacks professional skills when addressing the public; often by making mistakes and unfounded value judgments, such as claiming that university campuses are becoming havens for homosexuality, the Opera House a place for gay marriage, and the NCWR an entity betraying Egypt which must be shut down.”
TV host penalised for sniffing on air
In July, Shimaa Gamal, who hosts a show called “The Troublemaker” on LTC channel, was tackling addiction to heroin.
She brought a small bag of white powder, saying it is heroin. She put some on her hand and sniffed it during the show. Then, she put it on a cookie which she ate to assure the audience it was an act.
The SMC decided to ban the programme for two episodes and refer the presenter to the Media Syndicate for investigations, after which it was decided that she would be suspended for three months.
Gamal had publicly apologised. However, she also objected to the syndicate’s measures. In statements to the local Masrawy website on 24 October, she accused the syndicate of discriminating between her and famous TV host Ahmed Moussa.
According to her, the syndicate failed to penalise Moussa for committing a professional mistake but suspended her because they saw her as the “weakest link.”
The non-suspension of Ahmed Moussa
Pro-regime—particularly the security apparatus—TV host Moussa is a controversial figure, as he often incites and insults political opponents, activists, supporters of the 2011 revolution, and so on.
In October, Moussa published an audio clip, claiming to have obtained it from an eyewitness to one of the largest anti-security operations known as Al-Wahat shootout. However, security officials denied its authenticity.
The Media Syndicate objected and said Moussa violated professional laws stating that media content should not interfere with national and security interests. Syndicate officials told the media that he would be suspended until investigations take place.
The next day, Moussa appeared on his daily show and apologised, while the SMC’s reaction was to blame the syndicate on grounds that it was not authorised to suspend him.
Ramadan is the top season for TV drama series and commercials. In July 2017, the SMC’s Monitoring and Evaluation Committee issued a report with the following observations, based on professional and “moral” standards:
- Drama series were artistically creative, discussed issues related to the country and society and revived the work of senior writers while also introducing a promising new generation of artists
- The committee suggested that a letter of appreciation be sent to DMC network for removing offensive scenes and language
- There was an absence of drama tackling the “heroism of the country’s martyrs” despite that they constituted great human stories sacrificing their lives for their country
- Some content included insults and offensive language, but they were “individual mistakes” as, generally speaking, the SMC succeeded in banning the broadcast of insults—unless necessary in the context of the drama
- The image of women was undermined because there was more representation of the “flirting woman” type, rather than the struggling woman who’s loyal to her family, in addition to unjustified scenes of violence and insults against women
- There was a widespread portrayal of smoking and drug consumption in a way that would be seducing for teenagers
As for advertisements, the SMC said there were increasing complaints about their length and raised some state-affiliated institutions advertisement for “dressing the conscience of the citizens.”
Regulating and reforming media content
The SMC, chaired by Makram Mohamed Ahmed, was established under Law No. 92 of 2016, which defined the SMC’s role: to guarantee free independent media, based on international standards, but also in accordance with the Egyptian culture and identity.
When taking action against those committing violations, the SMC also addressed the outlets in which they appeared.
In the case of Al-Wahsh, two channels were warned for hosting “unqualified, non-authorised people to issue fatwas and aberrant ideas.” The same thing happened in the case of Gamal, which pushed the channel to issue an apology.
Despite the SMC’s sanctions, distorted media content is yet to be prevented, especially that several of the denounced hosts have long been controversial such as Al-Wahsh or Moussa.
The latter was convicted several times in court for professional violations such as leaking private phone recordings and slander. The list of TV presenters with similar characteristics is long.
Moreover, it is unclear if the role of the SMC is to be a “moral monitor” or law enforcement entity with regards to professional media rules.
Experts have significantly voiced concerns regarding a chaotic media scene in the years that followed the 2011 revolution, despite that they had expected the post-Mubarak Egypt to take new shape.
“More than three years after the revolution, Egypt continues to struggle with an authoritarian media sector and constraints on freedom of expression. Post-revolution regimes have not capitalised on opportunities to reform state and private media, and critical voices have been harassed and marginalised by state and non-state actors. As long as Egypt continues to be governed by rulers who believe controlling the media is in their best interest, reform will only come about through the few dissident voices in the media backed up by support from civil society and the masses.”
This came in a research published by Carnegie Endowment in July 2014 by Rasha Abdulla, an associate professor and former chair of the journalism and mass communication department at the American University in Cairo. Abdulla called for media reform.
Meanwhile, in research for the Polis think tank of the London School of Economics’s Media and Communications Department, also published in 2014, Research Fellow Fatima El-Issawi interviewed journalists and media professionals in Egypt.
They opined that “the Egyptian media post-revolution transformed into a free-for-all: a platform for freedom of expression of any and all opinions.” Yet, El-Issawi pointed out that “this model of chaotic expression of opinions is not new for the Egyptian media which has seen it expressed in the sensational tabloid media.” Moreover, political developments “made the debate on professional standards a secondary issue for journalists and their editors.”
Code of conduct
In December 2017, the Egyptian state gazette published the media code of professional conduct prepared by the Media Syndicate. Its main principles are:
- Media is a message based on responsible freedom
- Media should respect divine religions, social values, and professional ethics
- Respect for national heritage, identity, language, cultural diversity, and acceptance of the culture of the other
- The role of the media should be emphasised in the protection of national unity and national cohesion
- The media’s responsibility is to advance sustainable development efforts
- Respect for human dignity and non-abuse of any segment of society
- Media is a profession that requires qualification, training, and continuous development
- Respect for the rights of the audience, listeners, and viewers