معنية برصد انتهاكات حقوق التعبير في حق الأفراد و المؤسسات.

Small Screen Censors … Foundation and Collapse of the Drama Commission

The Drama Committee Against All

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation, after several meetings, issued a decision to establish a specialized committee for drama. This decision was probably aimed at setting the Council’s practices towards creative work in an organizational framework that justifies the Council’s decisions. The task of the drama committee is to monitor drama work, report any transgression and refer those responsible to accountability bodies with the aim of promotion of quality of drama works, also, probably, in an attempt to disavow its anti-creative nature. Makram Mohammed Ahmed delegated the presidency of the committee to director Mohamed Fadel, who was keen to deny the censorship nature of the committee since he was a creative artist and a film maker before he headed the committee. The committee also included critics, film makers and script writers.

The drama committee represented one of the most important transformations in the drama and cultural industry. The Ramadan drama season of 2018, which coincided with the peak of the committee’s work, was described as the worst drama season ever[9]. During the seven-month period of the Commission’s work, before it resigned in June 2018, the Commission expanded the practices initiated by the Supreme Council. The Committee was keen to contain drama, establishing five different monitoring committees, which examines every scene to be shown on Television, to impose its mechanisms of action in the form of subsequent control of creative work.

The role of the drama committee began in its new supervisory role. This role derived from the conservative general orientation of the Egyptian state and its opposition to all forms of creativity and free expression. The committee also benefited from the practices of the Supreme Council, which preceded its formation, especially in view of a weak resistance by creative artists to the intervention in drama works.

It is possible to see the expansion of the work of the Committee through its periodic reports published on the website of the Supreme Media Council, in which the drama committee tried to draw a professional image of the nature of its work, and in cooperation with 4 monitoring committees that follow the Supreme Council of Media, the National Council for Human Rights, Women’s Rights and the Anti-Addiction and Abuse Fund[10]“. The Commission followed the drama season 2018, and issued daily, weekly and final reports on the content of the work presented during the month[11], and rephrased and expanded patterns of irregularities.

In contrast to six patterns adopted by the Supreme Council in 2017 to monitor irregularities, the Commission adopted 19 patterns: “slander, slander, verbal abuse, vulgarization, incitement of hatred, ridicule and degrading expressions, scenes of violence, sexual insults, obscene scenes, smoking, drugs and alcohol, Insulting the mother, insulting the father or husband, distorting the image of women, and insulting brotherly countries. Through these patterns, the Drama Committee prepared 5 statistical reports[12], including the number of scenes and dialogues that are in breach in each pattern.

The committee of drama has been widely criticized since the first day of its formation. The conflicting comments by committee members helped to draw a halo of ambiguity about the nature of the role played by the amount of interventions in creative works. Through the announcements of the committee and its members in press statements or through its decisions and actions, which some considered to reflect “National moral condescension”[13], the Commission established itself as a punitive censorship body, similar – according to statements of the Chairman of the Committee- “a Traffic Officer on the drama street.” [14] The committee started out from the state discourse, which we mentioned earlier, and it angered the community of creative artists and intellectuals, especially after its monitoring reports and the penalties it wished to impose on violators, as well as the list of priorities it set for drama themes.

“The drama development committee has nothing to do with censorship, and it was formed only with the aim of developing drama, and to ensure that all freedom of creativity is provided, on condition that this does not affect the security of society.”

Mohamed Fadel, former head of drama committee

The drama committee saw its internal role as an extension of the state’s war on terror and the enemies of the country. The director of the committee, Mohamed Fadel, said on more than one occasion[15] that the drama committee was to regulate the “chaos of drama” created by the “25 January chaos”. The Commission also wanted to ultimately and with the continuation of its work create self-censorship imposed by the artist himself, whether out of fear of penalties and sanctions or to pass his work easily without obstacles.

“Before 2011 we did not hear about problems of this kind facing the soap operas” said Mohamed Fadel; “No one asked Osama Anwar Okasha to delete a word or a stray scene. It was the conscience of the artist that ruled the whole process; he knows that his series will be seen by all members of the family, and was preserving the sanctity of homes, and we did not intervene except after there was a need to intervene. “

Despite the wish of the current authority and the Supreme Media Council to continue the work of the Committee and to approve its policy and support its continuation, the Commission’s severe attack on dramas and content and the size of the irregularities observed and the penalties demanded by the Drama Committee of the Supreme Council more than once, has put the council in a difficult position, where the implementation of such sanctions, which included fines for each offensive word , and the warning to withdraw the licenses of space stations that continue to broadcast the irregularities of dramatic acts is very difficult, in view of the massive number of violations monitored by the Drama Committee and in view of the anger against the existence of the committee and that the imposition of such sanctions would threaten the work of private channels, which presented itself as a powerful alternative to state information and production sector of Maspero.

In its last report on the Ramadan drama 2018, issued in June, the committee reported 345 violations of the standards in the series of Ramadan in about 10,000 scenes in 16 series, which is 3% of the total number of scenes viewed as a random percentage seen by the committee.

The report of the drama committee pointed out that its work was limited to following up the extent of the screens’ compliance with the professional standards of the media, issued by the higher media council, and did not address the artistic aspects of creativity, but noted in the same report that “there is an innovative absence to address the issues of martyrs and their heroism as one the most important issues related to the existence of the homeland and to provide an example and model for adolescents and youth.”

Less than two weeks after the recommendations of the Drama Committee report were submitted to the Higher Media Council, the Drama Committee and its members submitted a collective resignation on June 25, 2018, stating that the reasons for the resignation, accepted by the President of the Supreme Media Council, came after the Supreme Council of Media did not comply with sanctions and penalties for violators, and that the continuation of their role as a “decoration” without powers and enforcement authority, is impossible.

“We started our work six months ago, but from my point of view there is an invisible coalition and power of channel owners, who are pumping money to demolish the industry.”

Critic Khairia El Bashlawi, member of the former drama committee[16]

 

Besieging drama… more than one stage to cross

The production, filming and presentation of drama works in Egypt are subject to interference by several state bodies: its laws and regulatory bodies on the one hand, and capital and production companies on the other. Moreover, investment bodies and satellite channels play an internal role in interfering with it, in addition to the self-censorship imposed by the creator.

This process ensures that a number of actors working together succeed in constraining drama works before their public display to the audience. We can thus consider that the censorship process passes through various stages, making it impossible for the artistic work to reach its audience as it was meant to do, especially in view of the conflicts between the various censorship bodies and with the diverse points of view and interpretation and levels of understanding of those vague expressions regarding morality, public decency, religious, governance and patriotism.

Thus, the current authority continues, using various discourses and terminology, to violate freedom of creativity. However, the current authority seeks to stimulate its public discourse against freedom of creativity by “sharing power” with members of society and making them key actors and players in the process of censorship by reporting abuses.

The Drama Monitoring Committee of the Supreme Media Council had allocated a special number to receive citizens’ complaints and observations on the dramas of 2018 through whatapp messages. Also the monitoring committee at the supreme media council, chaired by Suzan Qellini[17], had participated in the drama monitoring process in collaboration with mass media students at Ain Shams university, considering it “part of the training program organized by the faculty”.

The other side of the regulatory authority’s recent characterization is capitalist in nature. Through deals and investments, the current authority is re-mapping the Egyptian media market and seeking ownership of the media[18], thereby ensuring control of a significant percentage of public media platforms and outlets.

Through two major deals, in December 2017, Eagle Capital Investments acquired the shares of Egyptian businessman Ahmed Abu Hashima in the Egyptian Media Training and Consulting Company, owner of a number of newspapers and news websites, as well as the ON satellite network. Tamer Morsi is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Press reports confirm that Eagle Capital Investments, headed by former Minister of Investment Dalia Khurshid, is a direct investment fund owned by Egypt’s General Intelligence, which was recently set up to manage all of the company’s civilian investments in a large number of companies that are partially or wholly owned by the General Intelligence[19].

Prior to the start of the Ramadan season, Tamer Morsi made a series of important[20] decisions that directly affected the drama market in 2018. The company implemented some of the recommendations of the drama committee regarding the exclusive works and the budget for the purchase of series and advertising expenses, Drama 2018, and also postponed the network channels ON display of three series that were scheduled for the month of Ramadan. Tamer Morsi only announced that the three series will be broadcasted later, which did not happen time of writing this report.

Small Screen Censors … Foundation and Collapse of the Drama Commission

The channel had stopped the series of “Aho De Alli Saar” starring Ruby and removed it from the list of those to be shown in Ramadan[21], one day before Mohamed Henedi announced that his series, “Land of hypocrisy”, will not be shown on the same channel for reasons known only to the channel. Producer Gamal Aladl also announced that the series played by the famous Egyptian actress Yousra “We have other statements to make” has been cancelled, without giving clear reasons.

These TV series had stirred a wide debate before Ramadan. According to press reports, the participation of journalist Ibrahim Issa in the series of Henedi, known for his criticism of the current rule and the rulers of Saudi Arabia, led to the stumbling of the show in Egypt, and replaced scenes of Issa with another artist in a version shown in the Gulf.  Also, as what was raised about the singing of the artist Fadel Shaker – who returned after having joined armed groups in Syria- in the opening scenes of the Yousra series.

The crisis of “the land of hypocrisy” revealed a new aspect of censorship. The producer Gamal Al Adl talked in a television interview about the interference of Saudi authorities in showing the series by asking them to delete some scenes by Ibrahim Issa, declaring that Saudi Arabia, like any other country including Egypt, fine-tunes the content shown on its national official television through a process of internal censorship. [22]

 The second deal at the time, the Falcon’s takeover of the Hayat channels, was announced in September 2017. A group by the name of “Communication”, one of the companies of the Falcon Group for Security Services and Sigma Media, announced that the two parties had signed an agreement, by which the former will acquire the satellite channel Al Hayat. That was before “Egyptians’ Media” acquired Al-Hayat channel in a new deal concluded last July[23]. It should be noted that Sharif Khalid, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Communication (Tawasol) Group is a former agent of the military intelligence, and that the Falcon group is the most present in the field of private security, and its board is chaired by Major General Sharif Khalid former agent of the military intelligence and former head of the security sector of the Union of Radio and Television.

Through the above, we find that the current authority ensures that its practices contain drama and creative works, after creating more than one stage through which creative work passes. The new regime has introduced two new paths that differ from those of its predecessor in imposing new forms of censorship. On the one hand it continued the latter’s path in maintain censorship laws that contain drama works in their various stages before public display, and introduced a new committee specialized in drama exercising an inspection after public display. On the other hand, it tries through business deals to gain ownership of channels and to exert control at the level of the source, which was clear during the 2018 drama season and which was reflected in statements by some artists. This indicates the extent of interference by production companies, believed to be affiliated to state bodies, in the process of production and show of drama works[24].

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