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Postcards from Alexandria
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 06 - 2013

Starting on World Press Day, the three-day Media Forum took place at Pharos University with sponsorship from the Swedish Institute, Alex Agenda and the Alexandria Association for Culture and Tourism – the first time the event took place in Egypt. The forum tackled major issues concerning the development of the professional skills of all kinds of media player: local newspapers, young people's magazines, youth initiatives, online radio, photojournalism, etc..
Out of 280 applicants, the number was whittled down to 100 participants hailing from all 27 of Egypt's governorates to take part. There were also one from Sudan and one from Palestine. De-centralisation was the name of the game, with everyone sharing experience of citizen journalism and non-localisation, among other topics chosen based on a survey conducted three months before the forum went online: media management, journalistic skills, press freedom, internet writing, media marketing, safety precautions, graphic arts, online radio managements, media legislation and creativity.
The forum opened with an address by Fawzy Abdel-Ghany, the dean of the Faculty of Media at Pharos University. “This forum will specifically focus on the local media. We will have many and various workshops to familiarise participants with the kinds of problem we face and how to find solutions for these problems on the economic, legal and social levels,” he said. For her part Brigette Holaust , the Swedish Institute director, highlighted the importance of local media as one of the most important sources of knowledge: “The number of local daily newspapers produced in Sweden has mounted to more than 111 newspapers.” Holaust stressed the fact that education in Egypt prevents the best use of local newspapers. “When education improves, interest in local newspapers grows,” she added. Ahmed Esmat, the founder and the mastermind of the forum, said there are many young people who work in local media in 27 governorates, and one of the main goals of the forum was meet them.
Yet registration was a somewhat contentious topic, as Esmat, a media consultant and the founder of Alex Agenda, said: “The use of social media in our everyday life is a very vivid topic in the forum, and questions about it are answered every step of the way. The forum application was online and the whole registration process was handled as such . Any problems encountered in accommodation or transportation were brought up and solved online. We publicised and waged our marketing campaign online. Amazingly, people circulated the news and were eager to share the application to let more people know about it.” That is why Esmat stressed the use of the word “forum” as opposed to “conference” or “seminar”. “A forum involves people participating, involved in various workshops to prove their point of view. This forum is conducted to teach participants how to improve their journalistic skills and to share experiences with others to learn more. The sessions are all practical, not theoretical. We seek not certificates but education,” he added.
***
One particularly interesting session featured Solaiman Al-Kenawy, editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al Yom, Abdel-Hakim Al-Aswany , the governorates department head in Al Masry Al Yom and Hossam Abdel-Kader, editor-in-chief of Amwag. In the course of the discussion Kenawy underlined the importance of mobile journalism and the ability to make news available to the readers through all possible channels, talking about his experience launching a campaign to have a newspaper edition for each governorate. “We started with Akhbar Al Sherouk (for the Cairo suburb Al Sherouk), Al Bahr Al Ahmar (for the Red Sea) and Alexandria, and we did something similar to exploratory news in each governorate.” Solyman said.
Aswany likewise talked about his experience with Eskenderya Al Yom (Alexandria Today), which was distributed with Al Masry Al Yom newspaper on 24 January, 2010: “For every citizen, news has to be made available right there. Alexandria which amasses over seven million citizens must have more than one media institution to reflect such a large society. Eskendrya Al Yom was a real boost in Alexandria; it highlighted major problems such as pollution, the sewerage failures in the west of the city and the damage of some mosques. The last edition was issued in January 2011, but after that Eskenderya Al Yom stopped running due to problems encountered during the revolution.”
Abdel-Kader talked about the local Amwag, the first electronic newspaper in Egypt, launched in Alexandria in October 1999, which started printing on paper in 2012 thanks to young people's efforts. “It is non-political and has no social bias, he said. “But we focused on Alexandrians more than officials in Alexandria did. That is why it met with success. However, it too stopped due to economic problems,” Abdel Kader explained.
***
It was thrilling to realise that the forum resonated all across Egypt, leading to the launch of projects such as Sayidi Live, a broadcast channel for Upper Egypt. This YouTube channel, to be streamed live 24 hours a day all week, will be the first of its kind.
And young people are the ones responsible. Asked about the problems involved in such initiatives, Esmat replied, “We taught people how to make the best possible use of the social media, building on our experience as we encountered many problems in this area. Some people just do not know how to download the application or upload photos. Some participants didn't know how to share pages or publish their work on the net…” Thus, as Esmat put it, we learned “to undo the evil inside us: our own barriers that we put up to hinder our own success. Evil could be personified in thoughts or in traditions and customs, in political barriers, etc..”
Though there are many problems encountered, tight budgets being the most obvious, Esmat's message is clear: “Young people must to dig into the stone to find their own ore. It is not easy to be a journalist or a media activist; it is not easy to be a photographer or a correspondent. It is not enough to have a camera to be a photographer. One has to learn and to share one's experience. One has to collaborate with other media players in other governorates the better to achieve goals. There is no such thing as fake media or corrupt media; in every profession, there is the good and the bad. But such allegations will never make writers stop writing and or TV channels stop broadcasting. On the contrary, the young are the ones making the headlines through the creativity of their minds and their knowledge – and their ability to use the instruments of our times. We articulate freedom in spite of those who want to deny us that right or put us behind barriers.”


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