Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Egypt and the Media Effects

Media coverage of Egypt's 'Day of Anger' on Tuesday, some of which has been greatly exaggerated, could in fact create perceptions way out of proportion to the events on the streets. Hamdi Kandil, a respected commentator, for example, was just on Al Jazeera saying that 80,000 to 90,000 people took part in the protests. Al Jazeera itself is saying tens of thousands, which itself seems fantastical judging by what was evident on the streets of Cairo (it's hard to judge what happened in Alexandria and Suez). Television footage, by selecting the most dramatic shots and playing them repeatedly, could reinforce the perceptions that there was a true mass uprising. The main effects would be to embolden those who took part, encourage others to join future protests in the belief than there is safety in numbers, and on the other side of the equation throw the government off balance by making it sense a greater threat than initially existed. Al Jazeera interviewed Mohamed Abdel Salam, an official of the ruling National Democratic Party, who tried to be dismissive but then inadvertently hinted at the shock felt inside the regime. He called the events a 'crisis' and said the government wouldn't start talking about political changes until the crisis was over and the situation calmed down. That strikes me as a serious shift away from the usual official assertion that everything is close to perfect on the political front and the government will determine the pace of future 'reforms'. Media coverage can also make opposition demands seem more realistic, by giving opposition figures an unprecedented platform to be taken seriously as participants in the process. The news conference by Abdel Galil Mustafa, general coordinator of the National Association for Change, for example, gained much more coverage than it would under usual circumstances. Mustafa 'demanded' that Mubarak promise not to stand for another presidential term this year and that his son Gamal also renounce any presidential ambitions. If he had said the same last week, it could not have the same impact as today. Egyptians listening to him today might conclude that such demands are easily attainable.           

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