Maspero: The real-life drama of an Egyptian TV channel
Someone messed up on the job at Egyptian state-run TV, and big heads began to roll
Someone messed up on the job at Egyptian state-run TV, and big heads began to roll. An employee aired an interview of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with PBS’s Margaret Warner dated Sept. 28, 2015, when she should have broadcast a newer one with host Charlie Rose on Sept. 19, 2016.
“What led to the earthquake at the TV’s building yesterday, and is ongoing today, I must tell you, the phones haven’t stopped ringing,” said an agitated Ahmed Moussa, a talk show host on Sada al-Balad TV. “The building is a temple of the [outlawed] Muslim Brotherhood.”
It was not the first time a major blunder was committed at Maspero, the iconic, dilapidated building in Cairo that houses the state-run broadcast operation.
Rose had interviewed Sisi during the president’s visit to New York this month to speak at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
Moussa said there were countless patriotic Egyptians at Maspero, but also pockets of terrorists, and that engineers and technicians were the most dangerous among them.
No sooner was the broadcast error committed when the axe began to fall and sarcastic comments filled social media. The head of the news division, Mostafa Shehata, who got the job just months ago, was summarily relieved of his duties.
Then came word that Safaa Hegazi, head of Egypt’s Radio and TV Union, was instructed not to go to her office by the State Security apparatus, which would investigate the matter. Others were also hauled in to determine who was responsible for the gaffe.
Legislator-come-journalist Mostafa Bakry - who hosts the “Facts and Secrets” program on Sada al-Balad, and is a member of parliament’s media committee - said Egyptian TV was a matter of national security and nobody should besmirch its staffers’ reputations, despite occasional slipups.
However, he also jumped on the blame bandwagon, saying a campaign to cleanse Maspero was underway, and an emergency meeting of parliament’s media committee had been scheduled to call for an investigation of the interview flop.
“There are [Brotherhood] elements inside Maspero that were appointed during the tenure of Information Minister Salah Abdel Maqsoud when the Brotherhood was in power, and others appointed prior to that, in addition to organizations that are enemies of the state, like the April 6 movement and revolutionary socialists,” he told Al Youm al-Sabeh newspaper.
Not so, said Mohammed Abdel Rahman, editor in chief of the Egyptian e3lam.org website, which specializes in all things media. Abdel Rahman added that if the Brotherhood had any real influence inside Maspero, it would have been directed at disseminating ideas and programs to agitate public opinion against the government.
While saying Maspero undoubtedly had Brotherhood members within staff ranks, he disputed Bakry’s contention that they were in leadership positions.
“There’s no exaggeration about how bad things are at Maspero,” Abdel Rahman said. “The building is beyond internal reform, the current number of employees is 37,000, annual spending is huge, there’s no income to compensate for it, and its impact on the street is zero.”
The fiscal year 2015-16 budget for state-run broadcast media is over 11.5 billion Egyptian pounds (about $1 billion), close to 6 billion of which are expenditures, under 2 billion in revenue, and 4 billion a deficit.
The government has diverted its attention to private TV channels and radio stations as undeclared government alternatives, to address Egyptian public opinion, Abdel Rahman said.
Abeer Saady, former vice president of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, said anti-Maspero attacks following the latest disaster have raised concerns, notably the campaign by rich pro-government businessmen aiming to hold sway over the media.
“The error occurred and requires an investigation and accountability, but the way public TV, which is supposedly owned by the people, was attacked is suspicious because it dovetails with the rise of pro-regime monopolies owned by businessmen,” she said. Saady added that firing the head of the news sector without further investigation gave a false impression of justice.