• 16:17
  • Tuesday ,17 June 2014

Egypt: Reflections on congratulatory advertising

By-Karem Yehia



Tuesday ,17 June 2014

Egypt: Reflections on congratulatory advertising
I do not know the exact cost of congratulatory ads, which pay tribute to the appointment of a new president, in our press. Has the cost increased in comparison to previous years? What I do know is that this genre of political advertising is rare, or almost nonexistent, in modern democracies. And what also comes to mind here is that the cabinet decided in June 1989, precisely a quarter of a century ago, to ban the publishing of congratulatory ads sent by ministries, government bodies, as well as public sector institutions and companies, with the goal of reducing public spending. This decision was made, regardless of whether or not it was later respected. But what became clear later is that our businessmen were at the forefront of investing in this type of advertising. I have surveyed the ads allocated to congratulating Field Marshal El-Sisi for emerging victorious in the recent presidential race, for the period of the two days immediately after the election results were announced (Wednesday, 4 June and Thursday, 5 June 2014), in 11 daily newspapers, five of which are governmental papers (Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, Al-Gomhoreya, Al-Ahram Al-Mesaey, and Al-Mesaa), alongside five privately owned newspapers (Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Shorouk, Al-Watan, Al-Youm Al-Sabei and Al-Tahrir), and one opposition paper (Al-Wafd). I discovered that the decision to ban congratulatory ads paid for by the government was only violated once (in Al-Masaa newspaper, on 5 June, an ad was issued by one of the national water and sanitation companies in one of the governorates). And there is no doubt that one hopes that this violation is not repeated in the upcoming days. This study also revealed that only one out of the 11 newspapers sampled, namely Al-Ahram Al-Masaey, did not publish any such advert. The remaining 10 newspapers published 49 ads congratulating Egypt's new president in the two days mentioned, occupying approximately 14 full pages. Fifty-seven percent of these ads appeared in governmental newspapers (37 ads, approximately eight pages). Yet what demands more careful attention is the finding that one advertising party published 16 ads across the different papers, a total of 10 full pages, constituting 70 percent of the total amount of these congratulatory ads, and that that party is an international company headquartered abroad. And if we resume our analysis of the findings from all the advertising material (49 units as a representative sample of the phenomenon of political advertising in the context of congratulating the president), we note that 10 units take up a space close to one and a quarter of the pages advertising commercial products and services under the banner of the election slogan of the winning candidate's campaign and his photograph. And in this there is a mix between commerce and politics. Yet there is also a similar number of units, amounting to one or two pages, in which the political ambitions of the advertisers themselves appeared, without advertising for a product or a service, and the advertiser here could be an association, a union, a group of people or an individual. The personal nature of these ads is evident, as we find that seven advertisers placed their photographs side by side with the congratulated president. And we have here someone who describes himself as a "seasoned MP," or those who have placed by their names the label "candidate for parliament 2014." Among those are names known for their affiliation with the lawfully dissolved National Democratic Party. On the content of these ads, these messages exhibit high praise for the president, blended with hypocrisy, with the likes of "The commander of the second crossing on 3 July 2013." In any case, the promulgation of the term "the leader-president" and the concept of "the only ruler" in many of the ads deserve close inspection and study. In general, these ads do not promote clear democratic and institutional values. And none of them address general political demands, such as the release of detainees, or abrogating the protest law, or amending the law on parliamentary elections. This type of political advertising might appeal in a democratic country. It could appear in the form of publishing petitions signed by public figures. And perhaps we have one exception on 4 and 5 June. Yet it is the exception that solidifies the rule, when a businessman called for media agencies to "resort to silence in the upcoming period and abstain from interfering in the affairs of the state." The poverty of political advertising in our country, as is evidenced by the congratulatory ads of the president and senior officials, renders it merely a form of blandishment and hypocrisy. Former Prime Minister Aly Lotfy described congratulatory ads, in remarks to Akhbar Al-Youm, on 13 September 1986, when he was chairman of the Supreme Council of the Press, as "hypocritical ads." El-Hosseiny El-Deeb documented these remarks in his book, Advertising Media in the Egyptian Press, published in 1989. The problem is not merely in the questions raised by congratulatory ads. At least we are faced with a payment-based service, and in broad daylight. It is being paid for mostly by businessmen. The bigger problem is when journalists and media practitioners are transformed into advertising agencies, discarding the independence and objectivity of the media and the press, and in contempt of the law and the ethics of the profession. That is a different story.