(aka, it’s not over until Amr Adib, Tamer Amin, Khaled El-Ghandour, Mostafa Abdou, et al sing)
It’s been almost threee weeks now, and the Egypt-Algeria saga still leads the list of hot topics. For some people, it is the list.
The funny SMS Eid greetings that snidely targeted Algeria, directly and subtly, didn’t diffuse the anger. The messages seemed to express and stoke the furry rather than being another mechanism of dealing with concerns with humor. Black comedy or cynicism to be accurate. People were laughing at rhymed messages that ended with “يخرب بيت أم الجزائر” (literally to destroy Algeria), but only few were ready to discuss the issue rationally.
The news that Mohamed ElBaradie could be an option in the next presidential elections was still overshadowed by aftermath of the Egypt-Algeria games. The minaret ban in Switzerland did get some attention, but that too was limited. (I’m a bit surprised that Algeria wasn’t implicated in the outcome of the infamous vote, though).
Although, I heard that Arabic press got orders to water down on the coverage of the issue, the damage has been done, and false and speculative news still appear as facts.
Just before the Eid, journalist Amr Khafaga appeared on state-TV’s El-Beit Beitak with other journalists to assess media coverage of the skirmishes after the game in Sudan. Unfortunately, I don’t have the link. But it was surprising to see criticism of the way events were blown out of proportion, how agitation reigned over factual reporting, and the inappropriate language used on state TV, which was also blamed for it unprofessional coverage.
Although I would like to assume that this indicates a positive change in the government’s approach to the issue — especially with officials on both sides toning down their fiery statements — false news are obviously here to stay.
The latest example was unfortunately in Al-Masry Al-Youm, sports section. On Friday, the Arabic-language paper said that Qatar pulled its team from the women’s volleyball tournament currently hosted by Ahly, to declare its support to Algeria. The story quotes an Ahly board member who says that this is ‘probably’ the reason.
This piece of ‘news’ is trying to hit two birds with one stone: keep stoking the Algeria furry while using the incident to vilify Qatar at the same time (in your face Jazeera).
But in doing so, the journalist chose to ignore many known facts. First, as I heard, many clubs (over 10, if not 20) had pulled out from this tournament for various reasons, mainly finances. Usually women teams are sacrificed when their clubs are faced with limited resources/finances. The parallel men’s team takes priority. Second, the head of the Qatari volleyball federation was in Cairo all this week. It sounds a bit odd that Qatar (as a country) would pull out from a tournament in objection to something, but its official sports representative would attend.
The rise of the sports media
This piece of news and the entire media coverage of the Egypt-Algeria saga is the manifestation of the rise of the sports media. Let’s face it, sports, with all the corruption it’s known for, remains to be the closest thing we have to democracy. It’s something everyone relates to, can participate and engage in, and its governing bodies are regularly elected. It was only natural that with the advent of independent satellite stations and publications that sport would take the premium attention. As one editor of an Arabic-language daily said, the sports section (always printed in color) is the moneymaker, the section for which many people buy newspapers.
We’ve always had the “Sport & Youth” radio station, but new TV networks dedicated entire channels or considerable airtime to sport. You can even find coverage of the second-level football league. In turn, this pushed state TV to do the same. The competition – sometimes healthy, sometimes sickening – has demanded that these stations look for knowledgeable presenters that can also attract viewers to the station. Thus, instead of trained journalists, retired athletes took over.
The unprofessional coverage of events has been evident over the past couple of years. It was put under the spotlight during the coverage of the violence that followed the game in Sudan. It’s not like the supposedly trained journalists did any better, but the increase of this type of media people has definitely contributed in blowing this incident out of proportion and of (un)intentionally agitating the viewers.
For more critical and analytical coverage, these are my favorite:
1. Jack Shenker analysis in the Guardian: More to Egypt riots than football.
2. Nawara Negm’s sarcastic review of Alaa Mubarak’s phone interjections كلمة ابن الرئيس المؤمن علاء مبارك . Actually just read every thing on this blog.
3. And of course Mona El Shazly’s critical review of the government’s the media’s performance before, during and after the game.