Familiarity with technology is the primary factor that sets apart the two common types of media outlet in Egypt. Citizens who are relatively comfortable using smartphones and tablets tend to make more use of social media channels, which offer a diversity of information and whose users are overwhelmingly young, professional people. State media, meanwhile, is left reaching out to an audience of tech-illiterate, poor and elderly citizens.
The challenges faced by the state-owned media and its private affiliates lie in the extremely dull material they generally offer, along with a largely obsolete political stance. And no wonder, as state media output is in keeping with the unimaginative outlook of the Egyptian bureaucrats who operate it. It has steadily lost the ability to reach the hearts and minds of its audiences — even through the entertainment programs that Egyptians now prefer to watch on regional TV channels.
State-owned media is known to be the government’s media arm, which complements its overall ruling mission. The advance or deterioration of the state’s ruling capabilities is reflected in its media outlets. Meanwhile, due to its widely fragmented nature, social media in Egypt has a single distinguishing attribute: It challenges the nonsense relayed by state media (which it is doing successfully). However, I beg to differ with the argument, espoused by many, that social media was behind the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution — what mattered at the time was that citizens had reached the tipping point and wanted to change the ruling regime.
The diversity of the minds behind social media and the current precarious political role it is playing are difficult for the state either to imitate or to challenge. Social media has a clear advantage over state-owned media, which, driven by singularly outdated views, unintentionally presents itself as a target; providing good material for social media to attack on a daily basis. The result is that the Egyptian state is left with the only option of threatening to shut down social media, which I doubt it could do permanently.
Government-approved channels are losing out to social media as they are in keeping with the unimaginative outlook of the bureaucrats who operate them, meaning they have steadily lost the ability to reach the hearts and minds of their audiences.
The Egyptian state’s most important media challenge is the new generation of Egyptians (including people with limited education), who use social media exclusively. In a few years, hardly any Egyptians will be watching state TV news programs; social media will have taken over completely. Egypt could learn from how advanced nations which have already experienced this shift toward social media addressed this challenge. However, the political dynamics of these nations are completely different to ours.
Should Egyptians be stimulated to take part in large demonstrations again, the state media, due to its incompetence, will not be able to help to stop, or even reduce, the impact of such an event. The Egyptian state probably knows it is wasting its financial resources on funding state media (which has been booking annual losses of billions of Egyptian pounds in recent years). However, it cannot boldly shut down state media channels and leave its supporters jobless — even knowing that their contribution is insignificant.
The state needs to adopt a completely new mindset in managing its media outlets and to employ the criteria of competency and credibility as the two main pillars of reform. Applying this approach to state media channels, with their thousands of cadres, will probably be difficult. Nevertheless, implementing this philosophy of reform on a single channel, or even a single program, would help the state media regain some degree of true audience attention. The independence of social media cannot be thwarted — but a more competent state media arm might successfully influence its content.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.