Egypt is one of the most densely populated countries in the Middle East with an estimated population of 97 million citizens, and boasts a young population, 49 percent of which ranges between 0 and 24 years of age. The country has gone through a fierce economic reform program that has had its influence on all fields including the media industry. However, according to the IMF, the gross domestic product (GDP) growth has started to slightly improve and inflation is declining after more than a year since the launch of the economic reform program. Although it has a low per capita GDP, Egypt is the third largest media market after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Classified as a transitional democracy, Egypt features a media landscape which has witnessed many changes and challenges since the January 25 revolution in 2011.
There are limited critical voices in the mainstream media. Those existing are able to voice out their opinions mainly on social media networks, especially Twitter. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press, there are laws that hurdle these freedoms. These laws should be revisited to ensure enabling an environment that encourages the free flow of information. An Access to Information law is not developed yet, although there has been a demand to issue such a law for way too many years.
Audiences’ usages and preferences have changed. Television is still the main popular medium which reaches almost all Egyptians; digital media have witnessed a remarkable growth, and many media entities started to modify their traditional business models and adapt digital services to gain higher reach.
The development of the three media regulatory bodies in 2016 is considered a positive move in the Egyptian media industry. Yet, they are still in the institutional developing stage. The print media is facing a real challenge with a sharp drop in the number of papers’ circulation and advertisements’ expenditure, and a migration to the digital platforms. Yet sales from the printing copies still dominate the revenue sources (80-85 percent). The private newspapers have an edge through their presence on the digital media which attract a good number of readers. National press institutions suffer from overstaffing, in addition to the recent reduction of the government subsidy and advertising expenditure. Although the NPC is trying to implement some reforms, actual modifications in their business model are not implemented.
Although issuing newspapers became easier in the last few years, the Central Agency of Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) issued a press release on 2 May, 2017 that coincided with the International Day of Press Freedom, stating that the number of newspaper titles went down from 102 titles in 2011, to 75 titles in 2015, and the decline reached 40 percent by 2017 because of high expenses.
The television market is quite robust, and TV is still the most popular medium in Egypt. The national television has not seen actual change in terms of conversion from being the mouthpiece of the government to an actual public service broadcaster. Some attempts to regain its position in the scene are currently taking place through new programs, which, however, still lack the remits and principles of public service providers that would make them distinctive. Private satellite stations aren’t operating away from government or economic pressures, yet they are considered the most attractive platforms to the audiences. Although there is no specific data about audiences’ viewership preferences, entertainment and social programs seem to be the most appealing.
Several media entities are aware of the importance of digital platforms. Although the profit from digital platforms does not currently exceed 15-20 percent of the total revenue, figures of digital penetration and usage indicate a change in the future. According to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) indicators, there are 99.82 million mobile subscriptions, which means that mobile penetration counts for 110.37 percent. Egypt has 33.7 million Internet users, with an Internet penetration that reaches 41.2 percent. Statistics show that mobile Internet users are 32.76 million, with an annual growth of 25.15 percent; ADSL subscribers are 4.95 million with an annual growth of 12.4 percent. International Internet Bandwidth reaches 1.4 million with an annual growth of 36.15 percent.
A dual system of public and private broadcasters is in place. The government has an absolute monopoly over the terrestrial broadcasting system which is represented in the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU). Egypt has a centralised model of public broadcasting system that was introduced after the 1952 Revolution and is located in Cairo, the capital city. The predominant reason for the centralised broadcasting in Egypt is the desire of the government to use the broadcasting sector as an arm to guide and mobilise the public, and keep it out of hostile hands, since radio and television have the ability to overcome or bypass the problem of illiteracy. Although defined as a public broadcaster, yet it operates as a state broadcaster. Although the ERTU charter reflects the remits of a public broadcaster, yet in practice it they are not. Licenses for private radio stations are given on exceptional basis and the private television stations are only operating on the satellite platform.
The influence of partisan media is remarkably decreasing. Since their introduction, the partisan media were not fully independent from the government. Although they used to direct harsh criticism to the Egyptian cabinet, they were sometimes vulnerable to government pressure if they overstepped certain boundaries. They also depended on the government for newsprint and distribution due to their poor facilities and limited financial sources. Currently, the presence of political parties is very weak, which is reflected on the media. It is only limited to the print media with very limited circulation.
During the past 10 years, the media have been witnessing several violations of the professional practices, but recently at the end of 2016, the regulatory media councils were established and the development of the broadcast code of ethics was developed to set the basic standards and policies for media professionals. Being in a transitional period, one can witness the government attempts to continue imposing its control and the media entities who strive to protect the level of freedom that they reached. To limit state intervention, many laws need to be revisited to enable the environment for an independent media system, and limit the grasp of power on the media performance.