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Media Landscapes


Written by Rasha Allam


The Arab Republic of Egypt is located in the north-eastern corner of Africa covering an area of about 1m sq km. The country’s official language is Arabic. English is widely used and understood as well. Libya is located on the western borders of Egypt. Sudan is to the south; Palestine, Israel and Jordan on the north border. The Mediterranean Sea is on the north border, the Red Sea is on the east. The Suez Canal links the Red and Mediterranean seas.

Egypt is a transitional democracy. It is moving from an authoritarian to a libertarian system. Just as the political and economic systems are in transition, so is the press.

The Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) works with the Ministry of Information to manage and operate all eight government-owned TV stations and radio stations in Egypt.

The Egyptian print media landscape is diversified in terms of content and ownership. It includes governmental, partisan and independent newspapers.

Government-owned newspapers: The Egyptian government owns the main three national newspapers: Al-Ahram (The Pyramids), Al-Akhbar (The News), and Al Goumhurya (The Republic). The editors of the three newspapers are appointed by the president through a recommendation of the High Council of the Press. Government criticism is avoided to some extent; employees’ loyalty is always to the government.

Partisan newspapers: Political and oppositional parties are entitled to publish their own newspapers. Party-owned newspapers are considered competitors of the national newspapers; they attract a high percentage of readers by way of addressing government policies, taboos and sensitive issues.
Funding comes usually from the party itself and government subsidy. These papers enjoy little freedom from censorship in comparison  to the government-owned newspapers. The newspapers with highest circulations are Al-Ahrar (The Free), AlWafd (The Delegation) and Al Ghad (Tomorrow).

Independent newspapers: The Egyptian print media market has began to include flourishing independent newspapers. Although few newspapers have launched, those in print attract a big share of readers due to excellent newsgathering and professional reporting. The most successful independent newspapers are Al Masry-Al Youm (The Egyptian Today), Nahdet Misr (Egypt Awakening), and Al Sherouq (The Sunrise). They are able to challenge taboos, criticise the government’s performance and at the same time maintain professional standards of journalism in terms of accuracy, objectivity and credibility. Accordingly, and because of neutrality, they are cutting into the circulation of the three biggest national/government newspapers that have dominated the market in the past.

There are several popular weekly independent newspapers.  The most widely-circulated weeklies are Al-Asbou’ (This Week), Al-Destour (The Constitution), Al Fajer (The Dawn), and Sout Al Umah (The Nation’s Voice). 

There is a limited circulation in terms of weekly magazines, however, among the most prestigious general interest weekly magazines. These include Rosa Al Yousef, October  Magazine, Sabah Al Khair and AlMusahr Magazine.

The online Egyptian newspapers provide readers with a chance to interact with the Egyptian newspapers. The most three flourishing online newspapers are AlAhram, a national newspaper; Al Masry AlYoum, a daily independent newspaper; and Al Youm Al Sab’aa (the Seventh Day), an independent newspaper. The websites of these newspapers enable interactivity by way of allowing readers to send their feedback about any story. The websites include icons where readers can suggest topics for discussion forums.

Official radio broadcasts in Egypt started in May, 1934, although unofficial broadcasting began at the beginning of the 1920s.

Radio broadcasting is controlled and operated by the government, through the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU). Radio is the second-most popular mass medium; it has the highest percentage of listeners after television.

In 1981, Egyptian radio broadcasting services were divided into seven radio networks: the Main Radio network (the general programme), Voice of the Arab network (Sout AlArab), the Cultural Radio network (AlShabaka Al Thaqafaieh), the Commercial Radio network, The Qur’an network,  the Local Radio network (Al Mahaliat) and the Overseas network (Al Mowaghat).

The Voice of the Arabs network is comprised of the “Voice of the Arabs broadcasting service,” “the Palestine radio service” and the “Nile Valley” (Wady Al Nile) radio services. The Cultural Radio network includes three services as well: “the European service,” “the Second Programme service” and “the Music Programme.” The Commercial Radio network includes the Middle East radio service and the Qur’an Radio service.  The Local Radio network includes 10 radio services. These services aim to cover the Egyptian local areas. For example, the Alexandria radio programme was established in 1954 to serve the Alexandria area, the second-largest city in Egypt. Moreover, in 1982 the Middle Delta radio service was established. In 1983, the Upper Egypt radio service was set up; 1984 witnessed the establishment of the North Sinai radio service. In 1985, the South Sinai radio service started broadcasting. The North and the South Sinai radio services were established mainly to attract Egyptian citizens to inhabit these areas and to entertain tourists in the areas. The Canal radio service was established in 1988 and the New Valley and the Educational radio services started in 1990.

The Overseas network started in 1953 and includes 42 radio services in 32 languages. In 1975, the Youth and Sports radio services started as well.

All of these networks provide several kinds of programmes during broadcasting hours, covering topics such as education, health, sanitation, social life, economics and culture. Many international radio networks operate in Egypt as well, such as the BBC Arabic radio service, the Voice of America Arabic service, and the Monte Carlo Arabic service.

Two private radio stations launched in 2003: Nile FM 104.6 and Nogoom FM 100.6. The two stations provide a wide range of entertaining and infotainment programmes in a different style than the government-owned radio stations. Both stations have become the most popular entertainment stations in Cairo. Both stations are not entitled to broadcast any newscasts because they are not governmentally controlled.

A new third radio station with hybrid ownership (private and governmental) was launched in 2009; Radio Misr offers entertainment programmes in addition to news bulletins. This makes the station different from its main competitors, Nile FM and Nogoom FM. Radio Misr is allowed to broadcast newscasts because the ERTU owns part of it and therefore can interfere in the content.

Terrestrial television

Television first aired in Egypt in 1960, with a system of three channels considered a remarkable step for underdeveloped countries. The medium of television is owned and operated by the ERTU.

It was quite clear through the usage of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s use of television and and agenda of the news presented that the medium was going to be used as a propaganda tool for the government. Since its introduction, TV has been under the government control with varied levels of censorship.

Although the Egyptian national television networks exercise freedom of expression, no one may cross certain lines due to the government ownership and control over the broadcast sector.

There are about 12.8m households in Egypt with television. This is the highest number in the Middle East and north Africa.

The other television channels are local ones with decentralised policies of providing services for certain constituencies. In October, 1989, Channel 4 started officially to cover the area of Ismailia, Suez and Port Said. In December, 1990, Channel 5 began to broadcast and covered Alexandria and its surrounding areas. Four years later, in May 1994, Channel 6, which is known as the Delta channel, started to broadcast to the Delta area and its surrounding territories. In the same year, in October, Channel 7 was introduced to cover the Minia and some parts of southern Egypt. In 1995, Channel 8 was introduced in Aswan to cover the southernmost areas of the state.  Most of the local television channels have American programmes on their broadcast schedule.


The ERTU is owned and operated by the government. Although all the radio stations are owned by the government, the three private stations were launched with unclear criteria or agreements. An independent body does not issue licences. Rather, these are granted based on specific criteria known to the public.

Satellite Television

Satellite broadcasting started in Egypt when the Arab Satellite Communications Organization, or Arabsat, launched in 1985. The Arabsat is a top satellite services provider. Although Egypt has a small share in the Arabsat, it was the first Arab state to utilise the Arabsat by launching the Egyptian satellite channel in 1990 to cover the Gulf War.

The second satellite service provider is NileSat, which launched in April 28, 1998. The NileSat has two orbital satellites: NileSat 101 and NileSat 102. It carries 452 digital TV channels and 104 digital radio stations. Seventy-six percent of the channels are free to air.

The Egyptian national channel, Channel 1, and the Egyptian satellite channel, are government channels that both broadcast via NileSat.

NTN channels

Beside the government-owned channels, the ERTU launched in 1998 its own thematic channels on NileSat, to compete with satellite programmes. Its thematic channels include: Al Nil almonawa’at (Nile Variety), Al Nil Drama (Nile Drama), Al Nil Al Reyadeya (Nile sports), Al Nil Al Thaqafeya (Nile Culture), Al Al Akhbar (Nile News), Al Nil Al Aosra wa Al Tefl (Nile for Children & Family), AL Nil Cinema (Nile Cinema) and Al Nil Comedy (Nile Comedy).

Private satellite channels

Private Egyptian Satellite channels launching on the NileSat open new opportunities for different kinds of programming.

The first Egyptian satellite network was Dream TV, which involves two satellite stations (Dream I, and Dream II). Both stations provide diverse programmes: entertainment, religious shows, sport, talk shows and news analyses.

Following the launch of the two Dream satellite stations, the El Mehwer station launched. El Mehwer satellite television provides programme formats similar to those broadcast on the Dream satellite channels.

The third Egyptian satellite channel is OTV, which provides programmes and content targeting mainly teenagers. Lately, OTV has started to broadcast its daily news talk show in order to compete with the daily talk show programmes on Dream and El Mehwer.

In the past two years, the Al Hayat (The Life) network launched with two general entertainment channels and one specialised TV series channel.

All of these networks provide diverse kinds of programming and a talk show programme that features content from each channel.  

Another Egyptian private satellite channel launched recently to provide a format with mostly documentary programmes..

The introduction of satellite channels with new, distinctive programmes shook the Egyptian terrestrial television industry. Satellite television programmes are characterised by attractive formats and more liberal content compared to the terrestrial channels. This leads to audience fragmentation among the terrestrial channels

The cinema industry in Egypt is often considered “Hollywood of the East.” Egypt has about 250 movie theatres for a population of almost 80 million people.

Since 1976, Cairo has held the annual Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), which is accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Association.

In the 1950s, the Egyptian movies often featured veteran singers like Muhammed Abdd-al-Wahab, Umm Kulthum and Farid El Atrash as well as comedians, like Ismail Yassin. Serious films were not the norm, except for those created by the Egyptian international director Youssef Shahine.

When President Gamal Abdel Nasser came into power the movie industry was nationalised and moved toward socialism.

Most of today’s Egyptian movies and TV series are produced in the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC). The EMPC is an institution equipped with the latest equipment for shooting in outdoor and indoor studios. It is equipped with diverse production tools.  It includes about 64 studios equipped with highest standards. A cinema division is included for production, distribution and movie showing. The city owns its own marketing team and movie theatres as well.

Censorship, formerly an obstacle to freedom of expression, has decreased remarkably. The Egyptian cinema has witnessed a remarkable shift in terms of the taboos it may address. It has begun to tackle boldly issues ranging from sexual issues to heavy government criticism.

Reality cinema has begun to appear as a trend in the past few years. Movies depend on reflecting the poor suburb areas, which is shocking to the audience.

However, some issues still require regulation. Inadequate protection of intellectual property is among them. Lots of Egyptian movies broadcast in movie theateres get stolen and copied on DVDs; this cuts down revenues coming from the movies theatres as people can obtain a pirated copy once the movie is on the cinema.

The Egyptian telecommunication industry embraces four main telecommunication companies: Vodafone, Mobinil, Eitsalat and Egypt telecom.

The National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) regulates the telecommunication industry. It was established in 2003 under law No. 10 in order to regulate the telecommunication sector. NTRA is an independent body that regulates the market stakeholders: industry, state and consumer. The NTRA regulates the telecommunication market with policies regarding issues such as scarce resources and fair competition, in order to preserve the Egyptian consumers’ rights.

The telecommunication industry is flourishing. Predictions indicate that mobile phone subscribers will reach 57.3m in 2010 compared to 30m subscribers in 2007, which is a 36 percent increase.

Egypt is considered to have the highest percentage of Internet users on the African continent; the number of users reaches 20 percent. The Internet is a forum for freedom of expression. New media have opened windows of communication for the Egyptian citizens and encouraged citizens to participate politically within groups and exchange their ideas freely in a society that embraces lots of authoritarian features.

The Egyptian government’s Free Internet Initiative in 2002 was a step toward enabling convenient Internet access for every citizen. Moreover, with ADSL connections and 3.5G technology, broadband communication has started to open new forums of communication.

Although there is no precise classification for Internet user demographics, estimates indicate that more than 40 percent of Internet users are university students ranging from 16 to 28 years old. Most of the users (53 percent) range from 21 to 29. Twenty-four percent of the users range from 30 to 39 years old and 15 percent range from 40 to 45 years old.

In 2003, the Egyptian Assembly issued the telecommunication law to protect users’ and companies’ rights. The law aims to ensure the provision of Internet service to all citizens at convenient rates. It also regulates the private sector, aiming to prevent any monopolisation or big mergers that would lead to oligopoly in the market.

The Egyptian government provides its citizens with good services via its website at which any user can browse most governmental entities’ websites and all the sites of Egyptian constituencies, ministers and the parliament.

Another website,, launched recently to handle administrative services for Egyptian citizens, such as requests for issuing birth certificates, requests for car license renewal, requests for home telephone bill, etc. Accordingly, a citizen can go and retrieve papers easily from the appropriate entity after requesting preparation in advance from the website.

The website includes data about all Egyptian entities, including address and telephone numbers.

Although online media organisations have opened forums where citizens can exchange opinions, Egyptian security services may detain any citizen who threatens national security. Bloggers who spark waves of criticisms about the Egyptian government are often targets.

The Egyptian government also monitors Facebook activists, due to their great influence over other citizens. In early 2009, a huge strike was organised on Facebook. Israa Abdel Fatah called for 6 April, 2009, peaceful strike. Most Egyptian citizens remained home and did not go to work. Abdel Fatah was sent to prison due to her influence on the public and for mobilising people against the government.

Parliament is debating a draft law that would provide prison sentences for “abusing Internet use” and for “publication of multimedia content without government permission.”

Digital services are flourishing mainly in the newspaper sector where some newspapers have started launching their websites to enable convenient access and updated information for their audiences.

The national newspapers have had their websites online for several years. Independent newspapers, such as Al Masry Al Youm and Al Asbou’, have launched their websites with a high level of interactivity to prompt audience feedback regarding specific topics; forums are included for further discussion. In 2009, Al Masry Al Youm also began to provide citizens with a subscription service on their mobile phones where subscribers receive updated news through messages on the phones.

Television channels, whether national or private, terrestrial or satellite, for the most part have websites about their programmes, but no digital services are provided where people can have access to the programmes broadcast online.

Some radio stations provide online audiences with live access to their programmes, including Nogoom FM and Nile FM, two private Egyptian radio stations. Both stations have Facebook groups in order to attract a wide base of participants as a mean of communicating with the audience.

Although the rate of Internet penetration has increased, reaching about 18% of the population, it is still low due to the high rate of illiteracy in Egypt. However, the usage of broadband services has highly increased in Egypt, opening pathways for online services and participation to increase.

The Middle East News Agency, Wakalet Inbaa alSharq alAwasat (MENA), was founded in 1956 and is the main source of news and reports on Middle East news, including politics, business, culture and sports. It operates under the ownership of the Egyptian government and is presented in Arabic, English and French.

The MENA provides six services to cover the main news:

  • Local Arabic news bulleting: Targets subscribers living in Egypt. It covers political, social, economic, culture and sports news. It covers the main news happening in the Arab world, Middle East and internationally.
  • Press services: Provides a variety of features, news analysis, and photo services. It covers international sectors such as culture, art, science, sports and history.
  • Publications in Print: Bulletins printed daily, biweekly and weekly.
  • CPR (Cairo Press Review): Daily English-language publication covering main news published in the Egyptian newspapers.
  • PPR (Party Press Review) news: Biweekly publication in English covering the main news published in the party newspapers in Egypt.
  • The MEN (Economic Magazine): Weekly English publication provides the main economic news concerning those working in the Egyptian economy.

Foreign news agencies operate in Egypt as well, including The Associated Press and Reuters. Reuters has an Arabic website with translated articles about the main news of the day concerning the Arab region.

The Egyptian press syndicate is the official body governing anyone working in print media. It was established in 1963 and is controlled by the Egyptian government.

All Egyptian journalists are required to register with the press syndicate. However, the government favours those who work in the national newspapers and show support for the government.

Although Egypt has signed the Sana’a Declaration, which encourages the established of independent syndicates to enable the an independent environment, the government does not allow it. 

Broadcasters have never had a syndicate; the only body is the ERTU, a governmental body with workers considered to be government employees. With the introduction of multi-channel service, an initiative has been made to establish a broadcast syndicate.

The Egyptian Ministry of Information is studying two proposals to establish a syndicate for radio and television people. The two proposals are different in nature and in content. One proposal would establish a kind of labour union for those who are working in the ERTU. The second proposal would establish a large-scale syndicate to include anyone whose job relates to radio and television regardless of if it directly relates to ERTU. It would also include the people who are working in satellite television from an Egyptian base.

The Egyptian media market includes several media outlets. There are an adequate number of magazines in both Arabic and English.

Bookstores have started to flourish in Egypt as a reflection of Susan Mubarak Campaign “Reading for all.” Bookstores offer a huge variety of reading material for all ages.

The music market shows development as well, with the opening of music megastores, such as Virgin, providing diversified kinds of music outlets.

The Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Yet the government legally interferes in media freedom with the Emergency Law (Law 158 of 1958, as amended by Law 37 of 1972 and Law 162 of 1985); the Publication Laws (particularly Law 148 of 1960 and Law 93 of 1995 as amended by Law 96 of 1996); and the Penal Code.

In the Egyptian constitution, articles 47 and 48 guarantee freedom of expression for every individual:

  • Article 47 states:

“Every individual has the right to express his opinion and to publicize it verbally or in writing or by photograph or by other means within the limits of the law. Self-criticism and constructive criticism is the guarantee for the safety of the national structure.”

  • Article 48 states further:

“Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed. Censorship of newspapers is forbidden as well as notifying, suspending and cancelling them by administrative methods. In a state of emergency or in time of war, a limited censorship maybe imposed on the newspapers, publications and mass media in matters related to public safety or for purposes of national security in accordance with the law.”

Alongside these articles, though, is one that states:  “In a state of emergency or in time of war a limited censorship may be imposed on the newspapers, publications and mass media in matters related to public safety or purposes of national security in accordance with the law.”
Vague terms like “emergency” give the government wide range to suppress freedom of opinion based on its evaluation of a situation as emergent.

Section 2 of Article 3 of the Egyptian constitution gives the president the right to interfere in Egyptian media. It allows the president to:

“Order a censorship on correspondence of all kinds, as well as on newspapers, publications, drawings and all means of expression and advertising before they are published; order their confiscation or suspension or shut down printing houses provided that the censorship is applied to matters related to public peace or national security.”

In terms of publication, Law 158 gives the Ministry of the Interior the authority to prevent specific issues of foreign-published newspapers from entering the country if it is necessary to protect public order.

Journalists in Egypt suffer from frequent prison sentences. The 1996 Press Law empowered the government to put journalists in prison for libel charges.

As for the Penal Code, the Supreme Constitutional Court declared Article 195 of the Penal Code unconstitutional; the article allowed an editor-in-chief to be considered criminally responsible for libel contained in any portion of his newspaper (IFES, 2005).

Further restrictions exist along two lines: the issuing of newspapers and the censoring of content.

In terms of issuance, lLaw No. 96/1996 gives the High Council of the Press the right to be the only body responsible for issuing licences to newspapers. Licences are given to political parties and legal figures; the High Council of the Press impose restrictions when allocating the resources of the newspapers and setting their prices.

Censorship of the newspapers published inside Egypt, or banning foreign newspapers from entering the country is permissable according to Law 20/1936. Moreover, the Ministry of Defence can ban the publication of any work that deals with sensitive issues, topics that may affect public order or that is unfavourable toward religion.

Accountability systems can be considered a way to ensure that the public is well served. Accountability systems increase the idea of responsible freedom.
Egypt is transitional democracy, shifting from an authoritarian to a libertarian system. Accordingly, there is no independent regulatory body to monitor, regulate and question any medium.

There is a journalism code of ethics, which ensures that the news reporting process should be accurate, objective, fair and impartial.

The ERTU has a code of ethics as well, yet it operates under government control with no independent body monitoring its performance and compliance with the code.

The Egyptian parliament is the only body responsible for questioning possible violations of the code. As the government owns national media, the Ministry of Information is the body to be questioned on issues of concern in the national media.

The National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) is responsible for regulating the telecommunication sector. Yet there is no regulatory authority in the broadcast sector. The ERTU, owned by the government, is a participant and the controller at the same time.

In February, 2007, the Arab League issued a charter aiming to regulate the Arab Satellite Channels. The Arab Satellite Charter is comprised of general guidelines; it acts as a directive for the Arab Satellite channels. The charter includes guidelines for content and asks channels to target different sectors of their audience. Broadcasters should abide by these rules within the context of Arab social values.

Although many criticisms were launched against the charter, as it includes some vague terms that are considered open windows for government interference, many pointed out the importance of advertising regulations and regulation of children’s programmes.

Egypt is considered one of the leading countries in the Middle East in terms of institutions that provide media education.

Al-Ahram Regional Press Institute
Al Ahram Regional Press Institute aims to educate journalists about current best practices. It provides courses or sessions regarding graphic arts and legal issues that students might be exposed to in the field of journalism.

Journalism and Mass Communication Department, AUC
The Journalism and Mass Communication Department fosters learning across three different specialisations: journalism, integrated marketing and communication, and communication and media arts. The three specialisations are an effort to graduate media professionals who are able to function in an era of rapid media developments. The departments attempt to equip students with professional and academic levels of familiarity with the market. Professional work is an integral component in most of the courses.  Master’s degree programmes are offered as well.

Journalism and Mass Communication Department, Cairo University
The faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication was established in 1975, providing four-year courses for its students. Graduating students usually do professional work during their final projects, yet theoretical approaches dominate. The Journalism Department offers master’s and doctorate degrees in collaboration with the University of Paris II and the Paris-based Centre de Formation Professionnelle des Journalistes (Cairo University catalogue, 2009).

AUC’s Kamal Adham Center for Journalism Training and Research
It was established in the 1986 with the support of sheikh Kamal Adham of Saudi Arabia. The Center aims to enrich its students with a wide range of professional training in order to prepare them to enter the field of journalism with a high level of professionalism. Courses also educate students about journalists’ roles, rights and duties within society.

  • In terms of sources of news, pluralism is one of the main features of the Egyptian media market in print, broadcast or the Internet.
  • Egyptian citizens are exposed to a variety of national as well as international media outlets.
  • The Egyptian print media sector offers diversified types of newspapers in terms of ownership and ideologies.
  • The broadcast sector is witnessing growth. The national television networks have begun to provide different kinds of programming after being threatened by the private satellite channels.
  • Private satellite channels have increased in number, with a widervariety of formats: general, documentary and specialised TV series channels.
  • The telecommunication sector is witnessing developments across the board, helping the development of the Egyptian business market.
  • Online media is considered the one of the main platforms for the Egyptian citizens to be exposed to different kinds of information with no restrictions.
  • NGOs and civil society organisations have started to flourish and co-ordinate with media organisations in efforts to support media freedom.

Although the Egyptian media landscape has started to witness positive developments, it still needs certain policies to function independently:

  • A free “Access to Information” framework must be established and enforced to enable journalists to have fair access to databases.
  • Transparency must be applied to the licensing process for media outlets, especially in radio and television. Licences must be given based on certain criteria known to the public.
  • Legal protection of freedom of speech must be enforced.
  • Only the courts should issue warnings and impose fines on journalists or media organisations.
  • An independent body should be established to minimise political and economic interference in the broadcast sector.
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Rasha Allam, BA, MA, Mphil
Lecturer of Journalism and Mass Communication
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication
The American University in Cairo
AUC Ave. P.O.Box74,New Cairo11835, Egypt.
Tel: 202-26151000