State-run television has changed
Nehal Kamal, the new head of Egypt's state-run television, makes no secret of her disdain for the old-style media. Here she tells Venus Fouad of her plans for the future
You are known for opposing the policies of the former leadership of Egyptian television. What do you think of the State television coverage of the 25 January uprising?
The media coverage at the time of the revolution lost all credibility and failed to relay the facts to the public. This was because of the subordination of the [State-run] media to the political leadership. The so-called "guided media" was all about relaying the views of the ruling party, and no one else's.
You were suspended from your work as an announcer on Egyptian TV, but continued to perform your administrative work as the deputy director of Channel 2. Why was that?
What happened was that I was denied the right to appear on screen in a manner that suited me and befitted my long experience in television. I found myself taking part in a collective programme presented by five announcers, but the programme was aired in the afternoon when audience figures are at their lowest. This was vexing. I also submitted good ideas for programmes and was given the go-ahead by various authorities in television, but then I found my programmes were being cancelled at the last minute. The last straw for me was that I proposed a programme about books, hoping to bring some culture to programming in an appealing manner. To my surprise, my ideas were put into effect in more than one programme during the Reading for Everyone Festival, and I wasn't even given credit for it.
What do you think of the former television leadership, and the manner in which they interfered in the content of programmes and the selection of the guests that were invited on them? This practice, by the way, went on even after the uprising.
The internal policies in television were subservient to outside influences, which is what happened when the media was "guided". It will take us some time to reverse the trends that have taken root over the last 30 years or so. We have begun the change, but it is not going to be as easy as some might think.
The change is already underway, though. Several faces which had been banned are back on screen. Various political affiliations and parties now appear on screen. Television is now open to all Egyptians.
What is going to happen to those announcers who won a court case which allowed them to appear veiled on television?
Things have changed since the revolution. [Veiled announcers] take part in social and religious programmes that suit their appearance. The way one dresses, in our opinion, shouldn't be a problem. We don't have a dress code. What matters is that presenters appear in an appropriate manner on the screen.
Did the orders to ignore the court ruling on veiled presenters come from the former president's wife?
I know that the court ruling was ignored, but I don't know who gave the orders.
A change for the better has taken place in television, and events seem to be covered in a more transparent and honest way.
Yes there is a change for the better. Viewers have seen events breaking out in Arab countries. The television has been able to transmit the facts, which to a large extent has restored the confidence of viewers.
Do you have any plans to change the way the screen looks?
There are plans to change the art work, which might help us bring down the cost. We will use mobile settings that can be shared by more than one programme. There is also a proposal to change the graphics to stress Egypt's map, monuments, leaders, and historical and touristic resources. Television should be a mirror for Egypt, and we would like to encourage tourism. All programmes from now on will be inspired by the spirit of the January revolution. Logos and promos will change to express how people feel and what our culture is about.
We also intend to promote a culture of tolerance and acceptance of others.
Will you be launching any new programmes in the near future?
We are currently working on programmes aimed at promote political awareness. There is a need, ahead of the elections, to enhance political awareness and to explain the ambiguous terms that keep coming up.
How about the content of cultural and artistic programmes?
We are also thinking of turning some of these programmes into talk shows so as to give the public a better chance to get to know the writers, thinkers, critics, and artists.
Why have you discontinued to air programmes that had the approval of the former Radio and Television Union chief?
I haven't discontinued these programmes, only put them on hold. The decisions made about these programmes must be taken by the RTU chief, a position that is still vacant. These decisions also have to do with sectors over which I have no authority. One of the programmes affected so far was to be presented by Hafez El-Mirazi.
A few days ago Egyptian TV began cooperating with a satellite channel. The cooperation involved the airing of a programme by Amr Khaled and Amr El-Leithi. Is this a new trend?
The Amr Khaled programme is not produced by Egyptian television. It is produced by a private company and was given as a gift to Egyptia television. It is not meant for the exclusive use of Egyptian TV, and the production company has the right to sell it to other channels in whatever manner if finds appropriate.
Some people want the news sector to be separated from normal programming so as to make room for non-news programmes. Do you agree?
Channel 1 belongs to the Egyptian people. Our viewers should be allowed to enjoy diverse programming that that suits all tastes. We should therefore set aside specific hours for the news without encroaching on other programmes that Egyptians of all ages like to watch.
How about the bequest of jobs in television?
This phenomenon no longer exists. It used to be common practice in the past, in television as elsewhere. It was not illegal to appoint the relatives of television staff. Indeed, television work is a specialised field and the relatives of staff may have a competitive edge. But in principle, I am against the bequest of careers.
Do you agree with those people who want to see the Ministry of Information disbanded?
I am all for reform, reorganisation, and restructuring. But I do not wish to see anyone, workers or employees or journalists in television or in other media organisations, harmed.