Egypt’s giant Radio & Television Union (ERTU) is to be restructured. ERTU has massive debts (reportedly $2.8 billion alone to Egypt’s National Investment Bank) and is notoriously slow to pay other debts and obligations. Worse, perhaps, is that its key Channel 1 public service channel is now the least-watched channel in Egypt, according to the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies.
Viewers are voting with their eyes for the snazzier offerings from the Gulf stations and Egypt’s own privately-owned broadcasters.
The ERTU is doubly burdened, by inherited inefficiencies and massive over-manning. Various Egyptian governments have promised to remedy the problem, not least those involving the ERTU’s HQ Nile-side building (the Maspero) which is old and badly needs a complete overhaul.
Its losses continue to mount, and this year (2015-16) its projected losses will reach $510 million, although about half this sum is in the form of interest payments on its debts. ERTU employees 36,000 working in the Maspero building or at related sites.
The solution, says the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies (ECPPS) is for the ERTU to sell off some of the 32 chunks of land that it owns in and around Egypt. This could include valuable property out at 6th October City, a ‘new town’ alongside the Nilesat complex.
The 5-year plan is to replace the ERTU with various commercial operations starting with Nile Radio, a new business that will manage and control the ERTU radio frequencies. Essam al-Amir, who heads up the ERTU, says a national authority for audio-visual media will be established.
He says that selling off the land will generate cash to help the Maspero/ERTU settle its debts. Today’s 12 divisions operating under the ERTU umbrella will be reduced to 7, and then to 5 in Phase 2.
This move represents a dramatic change in culture, and which includes the privatisation of Channel 1, Channel 2, Egypt News and Nile Culture.
According to the ECPPS study, “The non-implementation of Maspero’s restructuring plan will increase the accumulated debt and lead the union to continue to face strong competition on the part of private channels, which would prompt more viewers to get away from the national TV channels.”