When sorry isn't enough
"I never thought I'd see that headline in Al-Ahram, " said a taxi driver, referring to Sunday's banner "every corrupt person meets his end".
Until the first week of this month Al-Ahram, like other national newspapers and television channels, acted as a cheerleader for the regime, at best ignoring the corruption among ministers and influential businessmen that it is now splashing across its front page, more often denying it.
Al-Ahram is still issuing a daily four-page supplement, Shabab Al-Tahrir, in which, as the front page clearly states, it seeks to "pay tribute" to the youth who initiated a revolution that for weeks it contrived to ignore. On Monday it printed an interview with veteran writer Mohamed Hassanein Heikal that was broadcast on one of the state TV channels. For years Heikal has been persona non grata in the state media, banned from its pages and broadcasts.
The official Al-Akhbar noted with approval in its banner on Monday that the new government included opposition and independent figures that weeks ago it would have deigned to mention only to denigrate, while Al-Gomhuriya happily denounced the ex ministers and businessmen over whom it recently fawned.
Al-Ahram has seen protests by journalists against editor-in-chief Osama Saraya that before president Hosni Mubarak's forced resignation would have been inconceivable. They have demanded a new board of directors and a new editorial council, issuing statements demanding, among other things, rotation of senior posts.
Earlier this week Akhbar Al-Yom's former chairman, Mohamed Ahdi Fadli, was arrested over allegations of corruption and wasting public money.
On Sunday at the Press Syndicate some journalists demanded the resignation of editors-in-chief and a change in their papers' editorial policies, accusing senior employees of state press organisations of lining their own pockets.
The head of the Press Syndicate Makram Mohamed Ahmed decided to respond to the demand by resigning. Makram's resignation on Tuesday was formally accepted on the same day by the Press Syndicate Council. An emergency meeting will be held Saturday to determine an interim until elections are held.
Other prominent figures resigning were Ali Hisham and Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, chairman and chief editor of Al-Gomhuriya, along with Abdel-Qader Shahib, chairman of Al-Musawwar magazine and Ismail Montasser of the magazine October.
Saraya and Rose El-Youssef 's chief editor Abdallah Kamal continue in their posts.
State TV has undergone a similar volte face, shifting overnight from actively denouncing and dismissing the revolution to praising its achievements.
Shahira Amin, ex-deputy head of state-run Nile TV, sees the changes as a positive step. It occurred, she says, before Mubarak stepped down, following a televised interview with Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik on Channel 1 in which he gave the green light to less partial coverage of the revolution.
Amin, who resigned from her post early this month in protest of the state channels' poor coverage of events, is optimistic that things will improve and does not rule out a return to state TV if genuine reforms are put in place. But, she warns, "corruption, money squandering and the absence of equal opportunities all remain".
Cancelling the information portfolio in this week's government reshuffle has been seen as a positive step towards necessary reform. It will take time, though, says Amin, as well as consistency for the national media to regain any credibility.
Ibrahim Yosri, a former assistant at the Foreign Ministry, argues that to really change the state- owned media must first rid itself of its existing hierarchy. Its U-turn over the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, he argues, might appear dramatic but remains cosmetic as long as those dictating and implementing editorial policy remain the same people who praised the regime and suppressed anything they felt would prove unpalatable to their then paymasters.
"People who have always kowtowed to the authorities will never be able to operate freely. If they remain in post the Egyptian media will remain one of the worst worldwide," he says.
Yosri was one of many figures banned from speaking on national TV, largely because of his opposition to the export of natural gas to Israel. He claims that the ban still applies.
There is no evidence, says Mahmoud Khalil, a professor of mass communications at Cairo University, that the seeming change of heart expressed by the state media is other than pragmatic.
"The media is simply bowing and waiting for the storm to pass. They used to heap praise to the president and senior state officials and now they have started to reveal the wrong practices of the regime and president. The Muslim Brotherhood is no longer invariably referred to as 'outlawed', but is recognised as an influential group with a significant street presence."
"People who work in the media used to praise Mubarak's regime. Now they have shifted to praising the 25 January Revolution and the army. What they really need to learn is how to play a social monitoring rather than propaganda role."
For that to happen, says Khalil, requires institutional and legislative change, including greater access to information, as well as retraining those whose modus operandi has for decades been to act as a tool of the government.
Scrapping the Ministry of Information is not enough, argues Khalil. He suggests, for state television, that it adopts a BBC-like model.
The BBC has been supported since 1992 by an annual television licence fee charged to all United Kingdom households and companies receiving television transmission. That is a system that has guaranteed financial, and with it editorial, independence.
State controlled newspapers require an even greater overhaul. That they be controlled by the Shura Council is, says Khalil, no longer tenable. He posits an arrangement under which 50 per cent of a newspaper's shares are controlled by its workers and 50 per cent by investors as the best guarantee of editorial independence.
"People were astonished when they heard about the billions of pounds the top officials had. If the media had had the right and the power to reveal that information in the past, it would have acted as an early-warning system and the public would not have been that surprised," he concluded.
Agaknya begitu jugalah nanti sikap pengarang-pengarang akhbar-akhbar dan pengamal media yang lain yang ada di negara kita ini sekiranya parti pemerentah akan berubah.
Sekurang-kurangnya akan banyaklah berita tentang betapa kayanya orang-orang besar kita, sehingga agaknya pencapaian bumiputra dalam pembahagian kek ekonomi DEB pun bolehlah dibanggakan apabila kelak kita secara resminya dapat hitung harta mereka sebagai asset kekayaan milik bumiputra. Agaknya Tun Mahathir boleh bersetuju dengan anjuran ini.