When elephants fight…Hajrah Mumtaz - Monday 11th April 2011

REVOLUTIONS, when they`re the real thing, go all the way to the bottom. Amongst the sweeping changes in Egypt, another smaller but crucial revolution is under way.
As Egyptians grapple with the new possibilities and horizons that victory at Tahrir Square brought, the professional future of a number of newspersons, both print and electronic, is in a state of flux. These include writers, commentators and anchorpersons that were Mubarak loyalists, or were considered spokespersons for nationalised media houses.
Many such institutions are seemingly at war within themselves, where groups of employees are demanding that figures from the senior management step down from their posts because their credibility is tainted by having acted for so many years as polishers of Mubarak`s image. Al-Ahram
Take , Egypt`s largest daily and, having been founded in 1875, one of the oldest newspapers in the Arab world. Amongst the feathers in its cap is the fact that it serialised and published the novels of Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. But in 1952, after the Free Officers coup, the newspaper was nationalised by Gamal Abdel Nasser, after which it became amongst the leading venues for the regime to disseminate its own version of history. The paper became a symbol of the nepotism, cronyism and corruption that characterised the Mubarak regime, with jobs being handed out as favours (it employs somewhere between 800 to 1,200 reporters) and senior appointments are made on the basis of loyalty to the party. Al-Ahram
This, along with a dismissive approach towards reality, can be gauged from the fact that last September, the newspaper published a photoshopped version of an official White House photograph. The original image showed President Barack Obama leading Middle Eastern leaders down the red carpet to a press conference, with Mubarak at the back of the group. In the version, Mubarak is in the lead.
The decision was taken by former chief editor Osama Saraya who, when the paper was accused of unethical behaviour, defended the photo as an “expressionist” rendering of Mubarak`s “prominent stance”. Al-Ahram
`Former` is the word to focus on. The day that Mubarak`s government fell, a large number of journalists started demanding that senior figures such as Saraya, the then CEO Abdel Moneim Said and other top editors who were appointed by the regime, step down. The dissidents felt that having toed the Mubarak line for so long, and having benefited by doing so and having steered the pro-government focus of the paper, such persons had destroyed the newspaper`s credibility.
Hundreds of employees signed a letter to the readers apologising for the paper`s partisan coverage of the demonstrations that started in January, which the management initially refused to publish (the letter was finally printed last week).
True, the paper`s stance changed somewhat after Mubarak was ousted. On Feb 12, the headline announced excitedly `The people brought down the regime`. But old habits, historic loyalties and enmities, are hard to let go of and can be dangerous when someone has a newspaper, a news analysis show — creators of public opinion — under their control. Newsweek Al-Ahram
According to a story dated March 13, Nobel laureate and presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei had been complaining that continued to distort his position even after the regime change, and that he had called for the top management of all state media to be replaced. You can de-nationalise a media house, but what do you do with the people who work there? Al-Ahram
The CEO and chief editor were removed recently by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, and the new editor, Abdul Azeem Hammad, said that the newspaper would stop publishing its lead editorial on the front page. A number of other officials in government-run broadcasting houses, who opposed the uprising and are accused of having provoked violence against the demonstrators, have also been removed while a number of Mubarak-loyal television shows, columns and so on have been axed.
The situation throws up the interesting question of the fate of nationalised media, and government-`owned` journalists, after a regime falls. It is true that if a journalist spends years writing in praise of the regime because of the benefits this brings — as opposed to objective assessment — then his credibility stands destroyed.
At the core of working in the news media is the need to retain objectivity as far as possible, and anyone who voluntarily gives that up, whose pen or camera produces `news` dictated by any party at all, should no longer be considered fit to be part of the profession.
But on the other hand, such removals stand in danger of becoming a purge, or a witch-hunt. Nationalised media outlets constitute a tricky question. Newsweek Al-Ahram
The writer of the story, Ursula Lindsey, quotes the former chief editor, Saraya, as having said in an email to the magazine that his newspaper “had a strong link with the state system and this is the nature of all the national press … We are victims of the system, we worked under its shadow and we aren`t criminals who can be accused of any charges, whether it is from our colleagues or other papers. The responsibility is collective, although I accept my personal responsibility”.
Sadly, it is true. This is the nature of most nationalised media. Remember Pakistan Television back in the old days? When a government that sees you as its own amplifier pays the salaries, all too often it calls the shots. And even when it is not the paymaster, it isn`t easy to be the dissenting voice, whether as an individual journalist or as an organisation. During the Zia era, newspapers were censored to screen out dissent. When, in defiance, they left blank spaces where the censored article should have gone, the government made that illegal.
Governments can blackmail media organisations, even when not nationalised, and the opposite happens too.
Here in Pakistan, the state can punish a media house by shutting off advertising or harming its associated businesses. In earlier years, though not any longer, it could curtail access to the paper newspapers are printed on (it`s imported, and there used to be a quota system). Meanwhile, the media can stir up a storm of public opinion against the government, its policies and its leaders. When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers — and that is why you`re worried about access to Geo Super.
The writer is a member of staff.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/11/when-elephants-fight.html

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