Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Changing media landscape

Tycoon Naguib Sawiris has sold the ONTV news channel to another business mogul, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Changing media landscape
Changing media landscape
Al-Ahram Weekly

Two major developments this week could change Egypt’s media landscape for the first time since the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.

The first was the cabinet’s approval of the long-awaited law that organises press and media operations. The second was the selling of local news satellite channel ONTV to Ahmed Abu Hashima, a businessman who also owns Youm7 newspaper.

The deal was announced by the founder and owner of ONTV, telecom billionaire Naguib Sawiris, on 15 May. The announcement came two weeks after the start of negotiations between the two businessmen.

Abu Hashima, the chairman of the Egyptian Steel Group, said in an official statement that he had acquired 100 per cent of ONTV from Sawiris in order to “pump investment into domestic media”.

“The takeover of ONTV comes in appreciation of the major role that it has played in Egyptian media and its important contribution in fighting all threats that the nation has faced leading up to the eruption of the 30 June Revolution,” Abu Hashima said.

He also said that the acquisition will “reinforce the Egyptian status in the media sector and presents a comprehensive and developed media that is both professional and attractive and also functions in accordance with the state and people’s aspiration for growth and stability”.

ONTV played a crucial role during and after the January 2011 Revolution, hosting several political TV programmes and supervising a presidential debate between Egypt’s two leading presidential candidates in 2012, Amr Moussa and Abdul-Moniem Aboul-Fotouh.

“We aim to support the Egyptian leadership in pursuing the aspirations of our nation for a better future through an effective, wise, and optimistic media policy in the future,” Abu Hashima said. This is the second time Sawiris has sold the television station. In December 2012, he sold it to Tunisian businessman Tarek Ben Ammar before later re-acquiring it.

When asked why he has sold ONTV, Sawiris said he could no longer handle “the pressure”.

“It is a headache to have a TV station in Egypt when nobody likes what you are doing — not the government, the people, the opposition ... nobody likes you,” Sawiris said in an interview with Dream TV.

He added that since the launch of ONTV, it has never been able to cover its expenses.

Abu Hashima’s move to buy ONTV highlights the growing role of young businessmen entering the media industry business in Egypt. Abu Hashima also owns a share of Al-Nahar TV network and owns Al-Youm Al-Sabei, the biggest online news website in Egypt with its own daily newspaper. 

Abu Hashima, who is in his forties, is known for being very close to government officials and recently donated LE50 million to development projects being executed by the Tahya Masr government fund.

Over the last six months, the broadcast industry in Egypt has seen major changes of which ONTV was the latest. The changes are due mainly to the financial crisis that many privately owned TV networks are passing through, finding it difficult to get the necessary revenues from commercials needed to cover their production expenses.

The network Al-Hayat TV laid off almost 40 per cent of its employees in January. The network is now facing a financial crisis after it paid LE100 million for broadcasting rights to the Egyptian football league. It is also unable to collect enough money from commercials.

Before Al-Hayat, TEN TV, another local privately owned network, went through the same problems. And the same commercial agency was also Promo Media. At the time Promo Media bought a drama series for TEN TV and the Egyptian football league rights for over LE300 million, which did not provide in return the needed revenue from commercials.

CBC TV may also shut down its news channel, CBC EXTRA, by the end of the year following similar financial problems.

In the meantime, on Monday 16 May, the cabinet approved a draft law organising press and media affairs. The government decided to refer the law to the State Council before it is referred to parliament for approval.

“The cabinet approved the press and media draft law which will be referred to a final revision next Sunday as a prelude to sending it to parliament,” a statement said.

The press and media draft law stipulates that three institutions will be established to organise the work of the press and media in Egypt: the Supreme Council of Media, National Press Organisation and National Media Organisation.

The establishment of the three organisations will replace the current Supreme Press Council. The statement added that the draft law gained approval from most state institutions that participated in framing it after societal debates were held.

The statement added that the minister of justice and the cabinet’s Legal Affairs Department have been assigned to amend articles of the penal code. This is in a bid to implement Article 71 of the constitution, which prohibits censorship of the press and media and imprisonment for publishing cases.

The new draft law includes provisions guaranteeing press independence and others which ban monopolies on TV channels and newspapers, setting a maximum share of 10 per cent for individuals.

The law also sets fines for violations committed by news organisations and subjects both private and public media to legal governance.

Completed in August 2015 after months in the making, the unified law was drawn up by a 50-member committee of press heads and law professors to regulate the work of the media.

The same 50-member assembly that penned the bill has drafted another law that would establish the first union for media personnel working in TV, radio and online outlets. TV and radio staffers have for decades operated without a union to safeguard their occupational rights and monitor performance.

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