Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s media power abroad

Egypt needs a new grand strategy to protect it from propaganda attacks abroad and present a true image of the country, writes Hany Ghoraba

For nearly six years, international perceptions of Egypt have been marred by endless stereotyping, rumours and misconceptions due to the biased media coverage of political events in the country. With the Egyptian state and politicians always choosing a defensive stance against international media criticisms, including of counter-terrorism measures, and new laws on freedom of expression, the situation has been exacerbated. 

There has never been a professional media body in Egypt that could defend Egyptian interests properly and rebuke the rumours spread by the pro-Islamist media abroad, especially that funded by Qatar. The Foreign Ministry and State Information Service have always responded to criticisms in a professional manner. However, many of these responses have been ignored by the international media. By the time rectification has happened, the damage of the original accusation may have already been done. 

Throughout the years following the 25 January Revolution, the Western media presented little balanced coverage of Egyptian affairs, and it has been creating a false image of the reality of the situation in Egypt. During these years, many reporters have worked as sensationalists or political propagandists when covering stories about Egypt. Many of them have painted a dark picture of the situation in Egypt that has magnified or distorted political events. 

While it cannot be denied that Egypt saw its fair share of violence after the 2011 Revolution, the country is still 

functioning normally. The international media campaigns against Egypt cannot be allowed to fester any longer, and the same grand strategy that saw the country spend some $12 billion on cutting-edge weapons to protect it from military threats should now be employed to allow the Egyptian media to defend Egypt overseas from propaganda attacks. 

Egypt should establish a new state-of-the-art news network in the English language, followed by one in French, to act as Egypt’s main spokesperson abroad as well as an unbiased international news network. This project will require the allocation of significant funding, though this will be much less than that spent on military defence. 

Egypt has lost tens of billions of dollars in revenue because of propaganda attacks against the country. These rumours tend to exaggerate incidents in order to suggest that Egypt is not safe for tourists. However, in truth such attacks occur in major cities across the world, especially Western capitals, and the latter are never flagged as unsafe destinations. This is because many Western media outlets choose to ignore the criteria they use in judging Egypt when lesser incidents take place on its territory. 

As the oldest newspaper in the Middle East, founded in 1875, Al-Ahram is a media pillar of the region that is unparalleled in its strength. Its weekly English edition, Al-Ahram Weekly, could be put at the core of the new strategy. Armed with a plethora of Egyptian and international news experts, political analysts and writers of the highest calibre, the Weekly and its French sister paper Al-Ahram Hebdo could be the launch pad for a new international TV network powered by Al-Ahram and financed through public and private companies. 

The proposed TV network should be properly financed in order to place it on an equal footing to other networks, such as 

CNN, RT News, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, France 24 and the terrorist propaganda network Al-Jazeera. The new news network would feature Egyptian and foreign analysts and reporters from across the world with offices located in major capitals including London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo and Washington. Along with these offices, reporters in the major capitals would be hired to establish an unparalleled network for reliable news that viewers across the world could trust to provide full and unbiased coverage. The new network would need to use cutting-edge technology in reporting, broadcasting and presentation, using high-definition and even ultra-high definition broadcasting. 

“[The West] has been convinced for some time that it has a monopoly over the mass media. But Russia Today has won a large audience in the US and Western Europe, not to mention in Latin America and the Arab world,” commented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of the Russian TV network Russia Today in January 2015, refuting US accusations that it provided simply “propaganda for Russia”. 

The case of Russia Today remains a prime example of how the Russian state has managed to defend itself against a ferocious propaganda campaign orchestrated by the international news outlets. It has garnered a lot of popularity simply for providing an alternative view to what is broadcast on the Western media, especially stations based in Britain and the US. It has effectively turned the tables on other news networks, often by using the same western reports and documentaries, but re-contextualising them. It has also used Western media analysts and anchors in its programmes. 

For nearly a decade, Egyptians have been complaining about the twisted media reports about their nation on Western media outlets and those run by the Qatari propaganda machine Al-Jazeera. The latter has managed to dominate the airwaves 

of the Middle East in recent decades due to its unrestricted funding. More recently, it has taken a nosedive because of its open support for terrorist groups in the region. 

Ironically Al-Jazeera’s rise to regional media dominance could not have happened without Egyptian assistance. The Qatari network was given space and time to spread its Muslim Brotherhood ideology through a weekly programme by Brotherhood leader Youssef Al-Qaradawi, who even managed to attract some to his views on his “Al-Sharia wal-Hayah” (Sharia and Life) programme. However, Egypt lived to pay the price for this complacency, and it is now high time to end it. 

Egypt’s image abroad relies on how it presents itself to the world. Years of shoddy TV media work has left Egypt’s international image in tatters, and it is now time that concerted efforts are made to teach the world about Egypt through patriotic Egyptian material and not from Qatari terror-sponsoring networks like Al-Jazeera or biased European or American media outlets depending on left-wing or right-wing agendas. 

The government should take practical steps, perhaps on the model of those taken by the Russians when they set up Russia Today. The Al-Ahram international news project would be equal in importance to the mega-projects undertaken by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, such as the expansion of the Suez Canal, the new administrative capital, the huge land-reclamation projects, and other industrial and commercial mega-projects. The exception is that the proposed international TV news outlet would cost a fraction of these, and its results could be immediate in terms of tourism and other business opportunities. 

Most importantly, the new station would help to set the record straight about the Egyptian nation and the Egyptian 

state in the eyes of international public opinion. Media power is of equal importance to military power in the world today, as modern wars are not just fought on the battlefields. Let Al-Ahram TV be Egypt’s most important media weapon in this new war. 

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

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