An Egyptian social media alliance
It is no longer enough for condemnation to be limited to criticism on social media as this has short-term effects
Let's take a look at the confrontation which prominent Egyptian media personality Bassem Youssef and renowned journalist and activist Wael Abbas launched against a recent case of media deterioration that this time was embodied by controversial Egyptian TV presenter Riham Saeed. Saeed has stirred several controversies in the past. In September, she launched a series of insulting remarks against Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Last week, she shocked her Egyptian and Middle Eastern audience when she hosted a sexual harassment victim and violated her privacy by posting personal photos of her, and almost justified the attack against her by criticizing her attire.
The incident outraged Egyptians and Arabs, and Saeed, as well as other similar media personalities who only care about high ratings without taking professional or moral standards into consideration, was widely criticized. This is not the first time this happens. In the past we've witnessed similar outrage towards other presenters who have either said or did things that harm and insult journalism, the audience and the most basic of human principles.
It is no longer enough for condemnation to be limited to criticism on social media as this has short-term effectsDiana Moukalled
However this time, reactions were not limited to commenting on the incident and voicing anger. We've witnessed an impressive breakthrough - which I think is a first - represented in an alliance of influential figures on social media to pressure advertisers to pull their sponsorship of Saeed's show.
Activist Wael Abbas began using a satirical hashtag against Saeed while Bassem Youssef followed suit and called on companies advertising and sponsoring her show to withdraw their ads and promised them free advertisement on his Twitter page which has more than 5 million followers.
These calls attracted many supporters, revealing the true extent of the public’s anger. This pressured advertisers and pushed them to withdraw their ads and to quickly announce this on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Bassem Youssef responded by commending them and by mentioning in his tweets the names of companies who withdrew their sponsorship of Saeed's show. Many of Youssef's followers also mentioned the names of these companies in their tweets.
This Twitter alliance between Youssef and Abbas - figures who prominently influence public opinion - against advertisers represented a breakthrough in the traditional confrontation between an audience typically divided on social media and a category of submissive media figures who are willing to say anything as part of their absolute loyalty to an authority or who are willing to resort to sensationalism to attract more viewers and advertisers.
It is no longer enough for condemnation to be limited to criticism on social media as this has short-term effects. Insulting campaigns no longer alter the fact that such a quality of presenters still occupies the media arena as they benefit from controversies surrounding them and consider them a factor that increases publicity. Some even seek to stir controversy to gain notoriety, even if it is built on negative foundations. Therefore, this time, pressure came from outside the means of traditional confrontation.
Those who took action were not relying on any legal procedures (which can be manipulated) against Saeed, as there was a need to adopt think outside the box.
Social media intervened to rectify the performance of traditional media, and it succeeded by using market mechanisms, which have long represented significant successes in the West by making traditional media available to consumers and biased to their interests through the idea that it’s the public opinion, and not countries or corporations, that fund the free media.
This time, the market was not a means to merchandise media material. An important breakthrough has happened in a scene that is under political, security and advertising controls. This breakthrough did not target one single and specific person but it targeted an entire system. The presenter, Saeed, who sparked this breakthrough does not only represent herself, after all she has not continued to provoke scandal without support, funding and encouragement. However, social media pressures in recent days has embarrassed advertisers and sponsors of her show.
The victory Youssef and Abbas have achieved is an important beginning that facilitates the capability to confront mutual interests between advertisers and the ruling authority.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.