The Egyptian TV presenter Sherif Amer said the Egyptian media suffers an "age-old" problem regarding the lack of long term reform strategies, and criticised the lack of awareness by the relevant authorities about the massive fluidity of the official media on a wide public base.
Amer, who considers himself part of the "golden generation" journalists in Egypt, didn't completely rule out a move to Egyptian state TV, but he stressed this institution still lacks a certain vision.
Amer is well recognised by Egyptian and Arab viewers although his show al-Hayah al-Youm has been going only a relatively short time. Arabstoday had an exclusive interview with him, and here is the complete text.
Arabstoday: Tell us about your career?
I started my career with Egyptian state TV, working for both Nile News and Nile International channels. During the same period, I had a spell with MBC channel too. Our generation was offered chances that were not available to previous generations, and that is why I refer to it as a golden generation -- a generation which includes Mai al-Sherbiny, Ayman Salah and Nehal Saad who is now managing the Egyptian media centre in the United States. I reached a point when I felt I had given all I could to the official TV, so I decided to join al-Hurra channel in the United States, where I presented a very successful show. But after some time, I felt the need to return to Egypt, and that is why I had no hesitation in accepting an offer to join al-Hayah channel.
Arabstoday: Did you have any pre-conceptions before joining al-Hayah?
Absolutely. I was well aware of the quality of the working atmosphere in the channel. I was also relaxed about working with the channel's owner Mohammed Abdel Mataal, who I consider as a friend. Al-Hayah is a respectful channel with enough funding to produce high-quality shows. I can say the channel has perfectly matched my criteria, especially as it offers a wide variety for the viewers.
Arabstoday: Do you find it difficult to present a general show after years of being specialised in political shows?
Of course there is some difference, but I think all the topics discussed in al-Hayah al-Youm are somehow related to politics -- education, health and food are all related to politics, that's why I think the presenter who has experience in political shows can easily fit in presenting different shows.
Arabstoday: Did you have any worries during your early days at al-Hayah channel?
Yes indeed. I was eager to make a success of it, even after 17 years of working on live shows. I still feel some tension before every episode which is linked to my desire to give of my best and hold the attention of my audience.
Arabstoday: Some critics say you talk a little bit too quickly, what is your response?
I used to hear this in the early days of the show, but I think this is actually an advantage. The show's duration is only two hours, and we use satellite contacts frequently, so the time factor is a consideration. A fast and truncated way of speaking is a familiar style in the West, while in Egypt we prefer a more expansive style. But I think the viewers have got used to my pace now. Anyway, I think the viewers prefer me to talk quickly and give a full background to the topic rather than talking too much without giving the required information!
Arabstoday: Would you prefer to be a sole presenter on the show?
No I don't. I believe working with my co-presenter Lobna Assal is an advantage for the show as we share a very good understanding, and I think the media polls which reflect the show's popularity, support my opinion.
Arabstoday: Your experience in the United States is a good yardstick to ask about the main disadvantages of the Egyptian media?
The main disadvantage in the Egyptian media is the complete separation between the published and the broadcast media. The TV presenter has to be a qualified journalist first to be able to assess the importance of what he is discussing. That is why our most successful presenters are those who made good careers as journalists first, like Mahmoud Saad and Amr Adib.
There is another age-old problem associated with the Egyptian official media, which is the lack of a long term reform strategy. Even when this strategy existed it was quickly abandoned once those who adopted it were replaced. It seems like those who are responsible for the official TV don't recognise the potential of this institution. The official TV has the largest popularity amongst the media stations in Egypt, but this popularity has been seriously threatened recently by the private and independent satellite channels.
Arabstoday: Would you accept an offer to rejoin the official TV?
In a flash ... But only if the official TV has something valuable to offer the viewers and a certain vision applied.
Arabstoday: Is there any restrictions imposed by al-Hayah channel on you?
There isn't any restrictions, and I can discuss any topic with complete frankness. I believe as long as we commit to professional standards, we will never be blamed.
Arabstoday: What is your opinion about other Egyptian talk shows?
I can't voice my assessment as I'm a part of the competition. I prefer to let the viewers choose to watch the presenter they trust.
Arabstoday: Do you envy any of your fellow presenters?
Never! They are all friends of mine. There are 80 million Egyptians who can watch 1000 successful shows presented by 1000 successful presenters, so there is no reason for envy.
Arabstoday: Do you assess yourself after each episode?
I used to do this in the past, but one of my mentors advised me to make this assessment on a less frequent basis, so that I can have a more objective opinion of my performance.
Arabstoday: How do you deal with a provocative guest?
I think the best way is to try and contain him but let the viewers make up their own minds about what he says, as long as he doesn't go too far. I learnt something from the acclaimed presenter Emadiddine Adib, which is to be very firm and very polite.
Arabstoday: What are your ambitions?
Actually they are updated on a daily basis, but my main ambition is to produce good work every day and to be trusted by the viewers.
Arabstoday: When will you leave al-Hayah channel?
I have never considered this. Al-Hayah is a very special stage in my career, and I can't imagine resigning from my work here.
Arabstoday: What are the topics that have touched you most as a presenter?
Generally I'm very sensitive towards any violations against children, and I find it hard to remain composed when discussing such cases. Sometimes I lose my cool for example when I talk about a teacher who beats a child.
Arabstoday: How do you assess the recent situation in Egypt?
As a TV presenter I'm very worried about the country's future, and as a citizen I hope we will return to stability and calm. I think we can achieve that if we can pass this coming period without protests or clashes.
Arabstoday: Your name was mentioned in a blacklist of media figures. What is your comment?
These lists include almost every media figures. I have no comment about this as I expect nobody to question my patriotism.
Arabstoday: Which candidate will gain your vote in the upcoming presidential elections?
I will vote for the candidate who has a certain vision about what will he do, but I'm not ready to name a specific candidate as I want to be completely sure of my decision.
Arabstoday: What about your personal life?
I'm married and I have two daughters and one son. I see my wife as a rare model amongst wives. She has shared my life since we were students, and I always respect the time dedicated to my family, as they are the most important part of my life.