Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said Egypt’s national press organizations had done a good job in 2021 despite the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic and adverse financial conditions.
“In 2021, Egypt’s national press organisations played a prominent role in raising the awareness of citizens of the dangers facing the country,” said Madbouli. “National newspapers were keen to spread facts, dispel rumours, and publish important information about the national development and service projects being implemented in Egypt.”
Madbouli added that reports and articles published by national press organisations in 2021 also helped the government gauge the pulse of citizens and take note of the problems they faced in their everyday life.
Madbouli’s statements came during a meeting held with Abdel-Sadek Al-Shorbagi, president of the National Press Organisation (NPO), on 1 January.
Al-Shorbagi briefed Madbouli on the financial situation facing national press organisations and the challenges they must overcome in 2022. His briefing highlighted efforts to cut spending, minimise losses, and implement more rational governance measures.
Al-Shorbagi revealed that a committee comprising prominent journalists, writers, and thinkers was formed in 2021 to streamline the content of national newspapers and provide them with information and statistics about national development projects being carried out by the government, particularly the presidential Decent Life initiative.
Al-Shorbagi reported that in 2021 the NPO had focused on doubling the revenues of national press organisations so as to generate funding for training and automation programmes.
Addressing Al-Ahram’s Energy Conference a week ago, Al-Shorbagi said national press organisations are an integral part of Egypt’s soft power and that their role should be to help preserve the state and support the building of a new republic. He appealed to state institutions to help press organisations solve their financial problems and push them forward.
In the current year, said Al-Shorbagi, press organisations will implement more reform and restructuring measures. “We aim to support these organisations achieve the optimal use of their assets, improve their financial and administrative systems, and invest more in their online news websites,” he explained.
Editors-in-chief and board chairmen of national press organisations say the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 hit them badly. Emadeddin Hussein, chief editor of the independent Al-Shorouk and a member of the Senate, said newspapers around the world, and not just in Egypt, are facing enormous challenges, and that the growth of electronic and broadcast media had led to many international media scrapping their print editions.
According to Hussein, in 2014 “a major national newspaper like Al-Ahram was selling more than one million copies on Fridays whereas now no newspapers, either national or private, sells more than 350,000 copies a day.”
Abdel-Mohsen Salama, chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment, told Sada Al-Balad TV channel that Al-Ahram’s revenues from advertising fell from LE2 billion in 2014 to close to LE900 million in 2021.
Salama pointed out that social media, in particular, has become a major source of information, and this is a global phenomenon which all press organisations are facing. “Al-Ahram’s strategy,” he said, “is based on the principle that there should be cooperation between the print and digital media, not conflict.” They should complement each other, which is why, Salama argued, Al-Ahram and other major Egyptian press organisations have established electronic portals and social media pages.
Salama believes the future success of print media will depend on its ability to develop news content, and cited The New York Times and The Washington Post as examples of print editions that remain profitable despite tough competition from digital media.
Hussein believes Egypt’s national newspapers could once again become a dominant force, but only if they are independent and free. “If these media outlets continue to be perceived as little more than government mouthpieces they will lose even more market share to the digital media,” he said.
Salama revealed that though Al-Ahram’s electronic portal and social media pages attract more readers than the daily newspaper, the organisation is planning to expand its international print edition in response to requests from readers in the Arab world and Europe.
Alaa Thabet, editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, said the meeting between Madbouli and Al-Shorbagi had made it clear that the government is committed to helping these national organisations overcome their financial difficulties.
According to Thabet, national press organisations cut their losses by 10 per cent in 2021 despite the Finance Ministry halving its financial support in the last six years. Government support covered 90 per cent of salaries and expenses in 2014, figures that fell to 33.5 per cent of salaries and 22.5 per cent of expenses in fiscal year 2020-21.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.