The state-owned media, both broadcast and print, faces an uphill struggle, reports Doaa El-Bey
State owned newspapers and television channels are struggling to change their long-standing image as a tool for the government and regime.
The official daily Al-Ahram is continuing with its supplement, Shabab Al-Tahrir, offered as "a tribute" to the young people who initiated the 25 January Revolution. On Monday the supplement carried the banner: "A million-person revolution until [Prime Minister Ahmed] Shafik and his government step down". Al-Akhbar has introduced new regular columnists like cinema critic Abla El-Ruweini and novelist Gamal El-Ghitani, known to be critical of the status quo, and carried a full age feature with testimonies from street children who said they had been forced to take part in the attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators by a senior police official.
Newly appointed deputy prime minister and temporary head of the Supreme Press Council (SPR) Yehia El-Gamal said this week that the editors-in-chief of a number of newspapers will be replaced by the end of the month. New editors, he said, would be selected on the basis of the support they commanded among the staff of their papers and on a demonstrably "efficient" track record.
El-Gamal pledged that henceforth the official media would focus on issues of public interest rather than the government's own agenda.
The SPR, which was long headed by the speaker of the Shura Council and Mubarak stalwart Safwat El-Sherif, is responsible for selecting the chairmen and chief editors of official news organisations.
Last week saw the resignation of several of El-Sherif's placemen. Al-Gomhuriya 's chairman, Ali Hisham, and chief editor Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, Al-Mosawwar magazine's chair Abdel-Qader Shahib and October magazine's Ismail Montasser have all departed.
Nayla Hamdi, professor of mass communications at AUC, sees changes in leadership as a positive step, though one that must be followed by the complete restructuring of the press. "The content of newspapers must be addressed, as well as their future independence from government," she says.
The resignation of head of the Press Syndicate Makram Mohamed Ahmed is another sign of the changes that are sweeping media organisations. The Press Syndicate held a meeting on Monday to call for the early election of a new chairman.
The Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) also has a new head, appointed by the Armed Forces. Major General Tarek Mahdi held his first meeting with staff on Saturday during which he promised to restructure salaries and instigate guarantees for impartiality. He asked for two months to make the necessary changes.
Safwat El-Alem, who teaches mass communications at Cairo University, said that the measures announced by Mahdi were likely to be welcomed by ERTU's workers, though questions remained over the appointment of Mahdi, chief of staff of Air Defence Forces, who has no previous media experience.
"The military can only try to set mechanisms for change. The rest needs to be done by media people themselves," says Hamdi.
El-Alem believes that genuine change will require a new ethos of teamwork, long missing in the media, and a commitment to airing issues of public interest rather than allowing the agenda to be set by the government and big business.
Securing the independence of public broadcasters is also a matter of urgency. There is no obvious model that should be followed, says Hamdi, although of the systems currently implemented in both Europe and North America, that of the BBC might be the most suited to Egypt's current needs.
There will be many obstacles on the road to reform. One barrier placed in the way of a pluralist media, however -- the list of figures, including Mohamed El-Baradei, banned from official airwaves -- could be easily dismantled. But even this will take a degree of political will that is not always in evidence.
Last week Amr El-Leithi hosted opposition figure Ibrahim Eissa on his show. Eissa launched into scathing criticism of Shafik and his cabinet. When the show was re-run the following day the section on Shafik was cut. The prime minister had reportedly called the channel and complained. A day later El-Leithi's programme was cancelled altogether. Old habits die hard.