Sacking TV presenter Osama Kamal: How graduates of the Presidential Leadership Program manage Egypt’s TV channels
 
 

On August 6, television presenter Osama Kamal was about to set off to the headquarters of the DMC television network in Egyptian Media Production City to present his talk show “DMC Evening,” as he did every Tuesday. Just before he set out, he received a phone call from a member of the program’s production team informing him that another presenter, Ramy Radwan, had arrived at the studio with his own production team in tow and that they were getting ready to present the show themselves.

Kamal usually anchored his show four days a week, from Tuesday to Friday.  Assuming there had been a mistake in the broadcast schedule, Kamal called a high-level security official who handles the channel’s daily affairs to find out what was happening. It was then that he received the staggering news. “There is no mistake,” the security official reportedly told him. “Ramy Radwan will present the show instead of you today and going forward until new instructions are given.”

Since then, Radwan has continued to present the program without any official announcement from DMC regarding Kamal’s sudden departure.

His removal from the program appeared to have been brewing for some time. DMC’s upper management was not pleased with his performance on the show, while Kamal himself was disgruntled with the decision to cut his salary by half in December 2018. His growing frustration was apparent in his comments during a TV interview in May about his potential departure from the show. “I will not leave [the channel], but I don’t know if I’m going to be fired or not,” he said.

According to a well-informed source inside DMC, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, Kamal’s contract with the channel has already been terminated. But the reasons behind his departure are nevertheless startling.

According to the source, the main reason for Kamal’s dismissal was that he made a seemingly minor programming change in his last episode on August 2, going against instructions handed down by a group of young graduates of the Presidential Leadership Program (PLP) who have been put in charge of editorial content for all channels owned by the General Intelligence Service (GIS), including DMC.

The GIS owns the Egyptian Media Group, the biggest media conglomerate in Egypt and the parent company of several media organizations, including ONtv and the Youm7 news organization. The GIS also owns D Media, which owns the DMC network, Radio 9090 and mobtada.com. The GIS additionally has majority stakes in channels like al-Hayat TV, al-Nahar TV and CBC TV.

Production teams at television channels under GIS control have been receiving daily emails from PLP graduates for the past two months with detailed instructions on what topics should be covered and a list of guests for each show, the source added.

The Presidential Leadership Program was launched in 2015 under an initiative announced by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Run in partnership with the Ministry of Defense and the Cabinet of Ministers, the PLP “targets young future leaders and enables them to acquire the skills they need to learn about governance, administrative and political fields,” according to their website

The eight-month program is open to university graduates between 20 and 30 years old with the goal of “increasing the awareness of young people on political and national development knowledge.” At the National Youth Conference in April 2017, Sisi said the PLP prepares young adults to fill crucial roles in the presidency, ministries and governorates.

According to the source, PLP graduates have effectively become the editorial decision-makers for TV channels owned by GIS. Under the direction of the GIS leadership, PLP graduates have assumed full responsibility for the channels’ content, reflecting the full confidence of the security apparatus in the graduates to oversee the media based on how they were selected and trained, including training on national security, the source says.

And it appears that their instructions must be followed to the letter.

According to the source, the main reason behind Kamal’s sudden dismissal was a last-minute programming change to what turned out to be his final show with “DMC Evening” on August 2. Kamal reportedly asked his production team to postpone one of the segments of the show to another day to allow for more discussion time on what was already a packed episode.

As punishment for not following orders, the channel fired not only Kamal, but his entire production team as well, the source said, despite mediation efforts by several senior staffers at the channel to keep some team members on board. The hasty dismissals appear to be a clear message to people working at other channels to not deviate in the slightest from the programming instructions handed down to them.

A source at the Al-Hayat TV channel, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, confirmed the daily editorial instructions sent by PLP graduates and their strict nature. He said “parallel production teams” have been sending final versions of the programming and that they are not open to any discussion or alteration, no matter how minor.

The source said this practice has been frustrating TV presenters and chief editors who feel they have been marginalized and that their role has been reduced to merely carrying out the ideas and policies of young people who have no media experience, which is reflected in their choices of topics and guests. 

According to the Al-Hayat source, during the first week when they began to receive the emails, some presenters made serious attempts to introduce changes to the list of topics sent out and appealed to the security officials they had been in regular contact with in the daily management of their programs. All the presenters received the same response, the source said — a categorical rejection of any changes to the list of topics or even the angles from which they would be discussed. Eventually, the presenters capitulated out of fear that they would not only lose their jobs, but be forced out of the media landscape completely and unable to find work again.

A TV presenter from al-Nahar channel, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said this new system is the main cause of the recent mass layoffs taking place at various TV channels. He said that production teams have been reduced to mere pawns carrying out orders, only concerned with ushering in guests who have already been prepped by PLP graduates. The source expects further layoffs in the future, with only one or two staffers needed for each show to carry out a set of narrow tasks.

The al-Nahar source said that the PLP graduates’ role is not restricted to managing the editorial content filling Egypt’s airwaves. During the last youth conference, the graduates had final say over all aspects of the event, including the list of presenters and guests. They also arranged all the themes and prepared all the questions and warned presenters not to deviate from the script, the source said.

The source added that the graduates clearly have a green light from authorities to take over everything related to the media and manage its daily affairs, pointing to their uncompromising attitude in dealing with well-established media figures who have worked in the field for years.

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Ashraf Hakim