Media on MENA Part 2: Media Freedom

Panelists (seated from left to right): Omid Memarian, Hanan Elbadry, Fahd Benhawy, Danah Abdullah

#NAAPMM and Other PITA-Consuming Comments
By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

Media freedom varies across the pita-consuming region due to a) political culture (thanks Dr. Samer Shehata for providing great background on this subject during my Georgetown days); b) role of NGOs, c) types of media outlets, and d) who finances and shares ownership.

Q & A Session

On Monday, April 9th, PITAPOLICY sponsored its second event in the Media on MENA series in Washington, DC with the support of PITAPOLICY contributor, Ramah Kudaimi. The first Media on MENA event kicked off the series on September 29th, 2011.

Next month, World Press Freedom Day will be celebrated by UNESCO and the Government of Tunisia in Tunis from May 3rd-5th. It is exciting to see that the global forum has selected the theme: “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies” and will be discussed in a pita-consuming country. PITAPOLICY was inspired to run with this theme for the #NAAPMM event. This was a great experience because Retweets from France, Oman, and Lebanon “re-shared” the speakers’ comments and statistics–in particular “More Arabs consume media than produce media #NAAPMM” by Sarah Hassaine, who live-tweeted as @shassaine.

Panelists discussed how media freedom varies across the Middle East & North Africa region due to:

1) Political culture;
2) Role of Non Governmental Organizations and watchdog agencies;
3) Types of media outlets; and
4) Approach to financing/ownership.

Below is the summary event press release prepared by PITAPOLICY contributors.

PITAPOLICY Co-sponsored 2nd Media on MENA Series Event: Media Freedom

On Monday, April 9th, PITAPOLICY Consulting and The Network of Arab American Professionals, Washington, DC Chapter (NAAP-DC) organized its second event in its Media on MENA series: Media Freedom Busboys & Poets on 1025 K Street. PITAPOLICY shared its media contacts to work with Cindy Ragab to coordinate the panel of four experienced Middle Eastern-American journalists across print, online, and television broadcast:

Hanan Elbadry, US Bureau Chief for Cairo News and returning panelist
Omid Memarian, IPS News Agency, Huffington Post Contributor Follow him on Twitter: @Omid_M
Fahd Banhawy, Journalist with several news agencies
Danah Abdulla, Founder of Kalimat Magazine Follow her on Twitter: @theyuppie.

“Journalists have been successful in changing the state’s narrative,” opened Memarian but noted how over “150 journalists in Iran have left” due to censorship and the state. Outside of MENA, Abdullah’s English language magazine, which invites writers from the Arab Diaspora to participate, will release its first print version this month.

Local DC bloggers & netizens participated online and offline under #NAAPMM–in particular: @omarbaddar @nermin79 @ramahkudaimi @shassaine @ayadmirjan @nadabrain. PITAPOLICY agrees with NAAP-DC that the goal continues to help promote knowledge sharing among the NAAP-DC community who work in or engage with the media industry. Banhawy presented in Arabic to showcase the range of skills needed to engage with MENA audiences.

Emily Manna & Omar Baddar of Arab American Institute

MENA journalists are global. In Hanan Elbadry’s case: she has interviewed dozens of prominent leaders, ranging from President of Sudan, Al Sadeq Al Mahdi, to US Secretary of State, James Baker–not to mention dozens of US Congressmen and Presidential Candidates, like Ralph Nader.

In the investigative journalism realm, Ms. Elbadray was the first reporter to be allowed inside Guantanamo Bay Prison and report on the super maximum security cell blocks (Camp 3). So it was exciting to hear her speak about her 20 + years of journalism experience to explain how Egyptian media has swung across the pendulum of media freedom–before and after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency.


Egyptian Media: An In-Depth Perspective by Hanan Elbadry
Ms. Elbadry shared the following comments with PITAPOLICY after her panel participation:

  • “The remnants of the Mubarak regime figured out that it is best to fight the revolutionaries who used social media with a similar but more effective weapon. They provided one of their second tier men with billions of dollars and he went and bought or launched fourteen TV stations in less than two month.
  • Their objective was clear, control the information flow to the average citizen who does not read. He recruited journalists and media personalities who were loyal to or implicated with the Mubarak regime *plus some independents that were offered unbelievable salaries, and called the whole bunch the “Opposition”.
  • These TV station thrived thanks to massive advertising revenue by the“Oligarchs” of the Mubarak regime. The same person established a new daily newspaper and hired the “Almasry Alyom”editor to run it.
  • In addition, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists started their own TV stations and newspapers with money rumored to come from Saudi Arabia for the Salafists and from Qatarfor the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The opponents of the revolution did not even leave alone the “Tahrir” TV channel, which was started by progressive journalists and became very successful in a very short time, so another one of the Mubarak remnants bought it.
  • Hamdi Qandil, of the clear political views, sharp pen, and distinctive writings evaluates one year of the revolution through the following dialog:
-Why did you leave the Tahrir channel?
-I did not leave the channel, but I froze my program until there is a change in management. My objection was not the person of “Mansour Amer” the new owner of the channel but I am against the businessman who buys the channel and also wants to set its policies and its editorial lines and the extent of its freedom.”

Special Thanks
PITAPOLICY would like to extend a special thanks to the Arab American Institute for promoting the event with their piece: Media Freedom. Also, a special thanks to Said Durrah, DC media personality; Rami Khater, Senior New Media Producer for Al Jazeera English; Feras Nabulsi (technical support); NAAP-DC Board members, Cindy Ragab (Programs Chair) Samer Korkor & Ethar Darwish (Chairs), Fatima Ahmed (Membership Chair & offline support), Mohamed Hafez (joint event logo design), Laila Mokhiber, Issa Salama (NAAP); and Sarah Hassaine and Ridah Sabouni, Advisory Board Members for engaging online and promoting outreach on media. NAAP is consisted of volunteers, so their support is immeasurable as they step up to engage.
Note: PITAPOLICY looks forward to sharing the response to this event by a guest contributor next Sunday. Until then, keep tweeting about media freedom in MENA/pita-consuming countries using hashtag #NAAPMM–it might come up in our third event in the series, tentatively scheduled in the Fall.

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