Egypt mulls new broadcasting tax
February 23, 2021
Egypt’s public broadcaster, the Egyptian Radio & Television Union (ERTU), has been technically bankrupt for many years. It has been kept afloat by annual handouts from the Egyptian government.
Rumours have circulated that the government is contemplating placing a supplementary tax on electricity bills in order to fund the broadcaster, and pay for expansion and technical upgrades.
An official press release denied the reports and said that they were groundless.
Nevertheless, ERTU still has more than its share of problems. Overstaffing at ERTU is notorious and successive heads of ERTU have attempted to trim the employee headcount at the broadcaster’s imposing Maspero Nile-side headquarters as well as regional TV and radio stations around the nation.
There’s also a claimed problem with nepotism, and an equally worrying aspect from some employees of simply not bothering to turn up for work.
Earlier in February there was some strong – and rare – parliamentary dissent which focused on Egypt’s Minister of Information Osama Heikal. An eight-page report issued by Egypt’s Media and Culture Committee accused Heikal of poor performance and financial negligence. Released on February 10th, the report was scheduled to be discussed but Heikal asked parliamentary Speaker Hanafi Gibali to delay the discussion to give him time to compile a detailed response.
“A majority of committee members decided at the end of their discussion to reject the Minister of Information’s policy statement delivered on 19 January. They insisted that Heikal had failed to achieve the objectives of his ministry and had violated administrative and financial regulations,” said the report, as reported by the semi-official state newspaper Al-Ahram.
Heikal, as well as being Minister of Information and thus the nominal head or ERTU is also chairman of the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC), the giant studio complex dubbed Hollywood on the Nile outside Cairo. His role at EMPC has been said to be illegal under local rules.
The parliamentary report stated: “It is deplorable that since coming to office in December 2019 the minister of information has failed to improve the financial performance of the EMPC. The only thing he seems to have done as head of EMPC is to raise his salary to LE100,000 a month.”
EGY£100,000 is about €5266 at the official rate.
Heikel, in a wide-ranging interview in 2020, admitted some problems: “Over the past 10 years in Egypt, no thought has been given to the future of the profession, and the reliance on traditional methods has led to the news consumer’s alienation due to the similarity of content in different newspapers in Egypt.”
Reconstruction of the ERTU has been on the cards for years. The latest came in the form of a decree (Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR), which had been established in 2016 by the power of law no. 92.) but this was just the latest in many decades of planned modifications. Not much has changed.
Egypt has encouraged broadcasters (and the web-based sector) to locate themselves at the official Media Free Zone and to pay commensurate fees for permission to operate.