In light of the ongoing protests and civil unrest that Egypt has been facing over the past few days, one must examine the factors that could maximize the effect of the protests. Since the beginning of the January 25 events, one thought dominated my mind, why are people not focusing on what state media is saying? Example after example of blatant lies that dominated the minds of curious viewers, yet the January 25 revolutionaries seemed to always get off track when it came to their demand for a media cleansing.
In order for the January 25 revolution to succeed one thing must happen: Clean up the Egyptian State Media (ESM). The revolutionaries went after the former National Democratic Party (NDP), and after that tackled the Ministry of Interior and the Egyptian State Security, however, one true villain remains unshaken. The ESM and the looming danger of the returning Ministry of Information are collectively the number one enemy of this revolution. How do you ask? Well the numbers talk . . .
Tahrir Square, July 10, 2011
In sample surveys conducted by the International Republican Institution (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) over a span of the months of April, May & June of 2011, the polls show disturbing and dangerous patterns. Egyptians rely on state-owned media outlets for “reliable” information. Before discussing the results of these polls, lets briefly discuss two topics: 1. the science behind the polls, and 2. Who is the real enemy?
1. The polls conducted by the IRI & NDI run samples of 1,200 interviewees. One might think that this sample would not provide a great accuracy. On the contrary. Assuming the sample size is evenly distributed over the different segments of a population, this sample size would yield a 95% ± 3.5% in a country of 82 million citizens. The sample is not evenly distributed, it is Cairo and Alexandria heavy, and it combines the delta and the upper Egypt provinces in two big chunks. Obviously that hinders the quality of the analysis. However, it is safe to say that the urban areas of Cairo and Alexandria are well represented in this survey. It is also key to note that the sample covers both genders equally and covers, evenly distrusted, representation of all age groups above 18 years old.
IRI April 2011: 70%+ of Egypt did not participate in protests
2. In the poll presented by the IRI, a critical question was asked: Have you (the sample interviewee) participated in any of the civil protests or events of January 25 and beyond? Over 70% admitted to not participating in any of the protests. This 70%+ are what
Graffiti from Tahrir Square: No "Couch Party"
the protesters/revolutionary describe as either sympathizers of the old regime or the widely acclaimed description of the “Couch Party” member, a term derived to express the laziness and indifference of nonparticipating segments of the Egyptian society. Note that, accurately illustrated, in the graffiti image enclosed in this post that most Couch Party members acquire their news from the much hated (by protesters) TV news stations. This depiction underscores the question, do Egyptians really rely on the TV as a reliable news source? Thankfully, for once, as Middle East political analysts we do not have to rely on swags (semi-wild-ass guesses) or estimations. The IRI and NDI conducted several polls over the months of April, May & June of 2011 that help us map out a proper answer to this question. Granted, scientifically this data is somewhat flawed, but it is accurate enough to convey an answer that could help the Egyptian revolution direct its efforts in the right direction.
So what do the polls say? The answers, as many have been predicting for a long while, are disturbing. Before discuss why they are so disturbing, lets look at data and the graphs:
Figure I: What are the most trustworthy & credible sources for information?
In Figure I it is clear that Satellite and National Egyptian TV are the dominant forms of media accepted by Egyptians as trustworthy and credible sources of information. Please note that it is not social media, nor is it private newspapers. In fact, aside from international satellite TV channels, the top four ranks are dominated by two forms of Egyptian TV and government owned/operated news papers. These results in themselves are not surprising, considering the high illiteracy rate looming over the Egyptian society.
Figure II: Which one of the following is the most trust worthy & credible source of information?
In Figure II the question is asked in a different form, emphasizing the personal element in the judgment and personal opinion of a credible source of information. Once again, the answers do not change much for the top ranking sources. The effect is apparent however in the lower ranking sources, which lose significant credibility when asked if they are personally considered a credible source of information.
Now that it is clear that TV is the primary source of “credible” information for a large majority of Egyptians, let us look at which channels are favored by the Egyptian viewer.
Figure III: What is the name of the media source you most often use?
In Figure III the answers materialize the fear into names of sources related to the percentages provided earlier. It is clear that Egyptians are shying away from Al-Jazeera as time passes. Instead, we see a spike in the reliance on channels like Al Hayat, Dream, and the Egyptian Channel I. Meanwhile, we see a sustained reliance on sources as Mehwar and ONTV. Noting that ONTV sustained a meek two out of every 18 persons surveyed. To make my point clear, 16 out of 18 Egyptians favored Egypt’s Channel I as their primary source of information in the month of June of 2011.
The Egyptian revolutionary segments of the society have picked out many enemies, among which are the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), etc. Although, there might be disagreement over who is the real enemies of January 25 are, one thing should be cleared. There is no way this revolution will reap its benefits without free press, and the cleansing of state TV. There will be no winning long term battles. Additionally, cleaning the media will aid the truth coming out, which will help the revolutionaries of the society deliver their message to Couch Party members, who in turn will better understand what really is going on.
In the past, media control was presented as a necessity to curb hate speech and other rogue messages that could lead to the demise of a nation. However, with the launch of NileSat in the 90’s and the various ArabSats before and after the launch of the Egyptian satellite(s), many fanatic channels have found their ways directly on to the TV screens of millions of Egyptian homes. With the absence of a reliable cable network in Egypt, Egyptians rely heavily on the use of satellite dishes and receivers. The reality is that the only information controlled and manipulated is the news about the revolution, while the real hate speech makes its way through fanatic TV stations.
This post is not intended to guide you to a solution, but rather to clear any confusion about who the real enemy is. How you go about fixing that problem is an entirely different issue.