Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

What lies beneath?

A satirical show aired on MBC Masr has angered Egyptian state television, Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 29 October TV presenter Akram Hosni, who plays the fictional character ‘Sayed Abu Hafiza’ on his satirical programme Wish You a Good Evening on the Saudi-owned station MBC Masr, ran a 10-minute segment mocking Egypt’s national television. In the clip, Hosni was playing piano while a fellow performer sang the lyrics of a song dripping with sarcasm.

“A night show as old as my grandpa, a bygone movie, and they say it’s exclusive, it’s Egyptian TV,” says the opening lyric.

In the programme, Abu Hafiza made satirical comments on what he described as “the deterioration” of the quality of state-owned TV shows compared to those presented by private channels.

Hosni ran clips aired on Egyptian state TV, including news, sports and talent shows, to mock Maspero, the state TV building on the Nile. One of the clips included a news anchor leaving the air while the guest keeps talking — but to himself. Maspero said at the time that the anchor fell ill and had to leave the studio for medical treatment.

The last episode caused angry reaction from Egypt’s media, forcing Essam Al-Amir, head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, into issuing a statement calling for an official apology from the owner of MBC Masr. Al-Amir slammed the show and its presenter, as well as the MBC network.

He said the show was “unprofessional,” saying Hosni had aired scenes of TV shows produced more than 10 years ago.

Al-Amir threatened legal action which would demand a halt to MBC transmitting from Egypt if no apology was given within a couple of days.

Although the MBC episode was highly praised by thousands of Egyptians on social media platforms, it angered several media figures who viewed it as being offensive to Maspero, the 55-year-old Egyptian landmark.

For years, Wish You a Good Evening has been shown on Egyptian-owned TV channels including Nile Comedy which is part of the state channels network, before moving to MBC Masr in 2014 following the cancellation of renowned political satirist Bassem Youssef’s show Al-Bernameg.

“Nobody can deny Egypt’s TV contribution to Arab culture,” Al-Amir said. “Our media figures established radio services across the Arab world, including MBC, and I am sure the content of that episode would not please any of our Saudi brothers in charge of the channel.”

Asked about the possibility of stopping the transmission of MBC, an official at Egypt’s Media City, which has sole authority to take such a step, told Al-Ahram Weekly that it could not take any action against the Saudi channel prior to a court verdict. 

Egypt’s Media City is considered a free zone, according to the investment law.

“In addition to the legal complications, the government would not support Maspero against MBC as it would cause tension between Cairo and Riyadh,” said the official who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity.

In a TV interview on Saturday on the Egyptian-owned Al-Qahera Wal Nas, Hosni defended his show, saying he aimed at pushing Egyptian national TV officials “to restore Maspero’s old status.

“What I actually did was criticise the content of what Egyptian State TV presents. It does not suit 2015.”

Through his fictional character, Hosni criticises various aspects of life in Egypt, from education to social traditions and politics.

Hosni said officials at Maspero “do not realise that Egyptian viewers can compare the quality of shows on state TV with the privately-owned channels.

“The problem with people in charge of Egyptian TV is that they are unaware that viewers are watching programmes on various privately owned channels.

“I doubt very much if anyone can say that what I presented on the show was not true,” Hosni said.

Hosni maintained that what he mocked in his performance was “reality”, adding that he found no need to apologise because he did “nothing wrong”.

In a statement issued on Sunday, MBC Masr said it backs the show and its presenter, while stressing that it respects Egyptian national TV and its long history.

“We respect Egyptian state TV and its history and all its workers,” the statement said, “However, we call upon Maspero officials to understand that Hosni’s show is purely comedy and that what was presented should not be taken seriously at all.

“Akram Hosni is a successful satirical presenter and the segment aired on Maspero should not be regarded as more than comedy,” MBC said.

However, the Egyptian Chamber of Media Industry, which acts as a syndicate of the privately owned TV channels, issued a statement calling on MBC Egypt to issue an apology to Maspero.

“We consider that what was on Hosni’s show an insult to such an important and old institution that helped to build Egypt’s public awareness and culture,” said the chamber’s statement.

An informed source at a commercial agency who requested not to be identified said that the attack on MBC Masr aimed to decrease its popularity which managed to bring to the Saudi network almost 60 per cent of the commercials in Egypt.

“MBC Masr gets almost 60 per cent of the commercials because it is number one in terms of the viewership rate in Egypt,” the source told the Weekly.

“Other media agencies responsible for channels like Al-Hayat, Ten and Al-Nahar are using this crisis to get more commercials which explains their statement of solidarity issued by the Chamber of Media Industry,” the source said.

He added that nobody could deny “the deterioration” of the performance of the state-owned TV.

“Maspero has the best studios and capabilities in Egypt. However, it offers the worst TV service and its viewership rate is less than 10 per cent, according to reports from the Chamber of Media Industry,” the source noted.

Since the 2011 Revolution, there have been several calls to revamp Maspero and address the problems of its unwieldy 42,000-plus staff, believing that it has become unable to compete with privately-owned TV channels.

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