Data in the Mist
The Egyptian media market appears opaque on purpose as the access to any piece of data is, though legally provided, effectively blocked in practice. Seeking information about media ownership is a particularly difficult task as there is no official obligation to disclose any information. As Egypt has no Right to Information law, the general public has no legal means to get access and obtain data from public institutions.
In the commercial legal framework, although transparency is officially required for any Egyptian company, the MOM team could not retrieve any piece of data from the Company Registry because of an illegal and prohibitive fee requested to access corporate information. As such, this data was assessed as unavailable. Some companies and outlets display at least a little information about their history (Al Masry Al Youm, Al Bawaba, Mada Masr) or their management (Qalaa Holdings, Egyptian Media, Future group holding, Cleopatra media, Dar El Tahrir, Akhbar Al Youm) on their websites.
In addition – and in theory – a new set of laws also requires each media outlet to publish financial statements and balance sheets, but the executive authority has not yet issued any of the executive sub-regulations to allow these laws to be put into actions. As a result, financial information and management data was unavailable to the MOM team.
Particularly, the heavy investments made by the General Intelligence in the media sector raise questions. Some investigation points towards the United Arab Emirates as a source, but this could not be confirmed independently and, not surprisingly, the secret service remains rather secretive in this regard.
The same secretive treatment applies to the deals that took place in the media sector since President al-Sisi took office, including transactions involving major private satellite TV channels (ON E, CBC, Al Hayah Networks). Some deals were made without even announcing the name of the main buyer (Al-Dostor).
State monopoly over audience data
Audience data is being monopolized by the Egyptian State and kept secret, too. Since 2017, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation has urged market research firms not to publish the results of any survey until they are endorsed by it. However, as of January 2019, this did not happen. So to this day, no survey on audience is publicly available for Egypt.
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation was contacted by the MOM team to obtain broadcast audience data, as was the State-owned Al-Ahram Distribution Corporation for information regarding the circulation numbers of newspapers. To this day, none of them answered.
As the MOM Egypt team did not succeed in obtaining information from the official bodies or from the media outlets themselves, it relied on investigating and tracking data from the press releases of major companies and media owners in Egypt, articles published by independent media, in addition to benefiting from some of the information published by the Media outlets or companies via their websites. However, even sources sometimes just disappear.
For example, the information originally provided on the website of the Future Media Company, which included an explanation of the company's areas of activity, was erased after its shares were transferred to the EGM. The EGM website, in turn, does not mention anything about the Future Media Company.
The ownership of Masrawy could also not be established. At one point, its ownership was transferred from LinkOnline company, belonging to Orascom Investment, to Accelero Capital. However, media report that Masrawy has been placed under the management of the ONA Media Group. It is therefore not known whether Masrawy is owned by Accelero Capital or if it has been sold to ONA Media Group.
As a result it must be stated that any approach towards meaningful media regulation in Egypt stops dead in its tracks for lack of data. The different measures applied to effectively withhold data from public scrutiny are so wide-ranging, that only a systemic policy approach can explain it. Even though some laws pretend a certain quest for transparency, the reality of Egypt’s media market suffers from a full and purposeful black out of data – to an extent, the MOM has never seen it in any other country around the world.