The most significant change to Middle East media in recent years has been the shift that has allowed governments to own private TV channels. This is best illustrated by the breakthrough achieved by Qatar’s Al-Jazeera channel in putting Arab media on the track of international standards in terms of quality and reach.

I give [government and private TV channels] the credit for this breakthrough, although I am at times doubtful about the standards of professionalism at some of the channels, which sometimes find themselves under scrutiny, particularly channels that have been accused of serving certain agenda’s and supporting extremism.

Cultural hubs

Cairo and Beirut remain the cultural centres of Arab media. But credit must be given to the likes of Al-Jazeera and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya, which have attracted talent from across the region. The Gulf’s ability to draw regional talent has not affected other historical media hubs. Egypt and Lebanon, for example, continue to breed large numbers of qualified and talented media professionals. I have no fear that other countries in the region are suffering from a talent shortage caused by large numbers moving to the Gulf.

Moving forward, the biggest opportunity for media companies is the increasing influence of social media and convergence into digital. But the region still has a lot of issues regarding intellectual property laws and rights. The Arab world must be better prepared to tackle the challenges of infringements on intellectual rights. What does not help is the sluggishness of governments to crackdown on such infringements and put anti-piracy laws in place. If this can be achieved, the region can continue its digital journey at the same rate as Europe and the rest of the world. Ultimately, we will get there.

Piracy challenge

The ownership of content will still face the significant challenge of piracy. As long as intellectual rights are not being respected in most countries in the Arab world, it is difficult to see how traditional companies will make their successful shift to digital. Despite the ownership of most Arab and Egyptian content, many movies and shows find themselves free-to-view on websites such as YouTube, and this has hurt many content owners and advertisers, who are not receiving the right regulatory support from governments to fight this.

For the wider region, the major challenge facing Arab media is the continued crackdown by totalitarian regimes on freedom of press and neutral TV stations. The private sector finds itself on the back foot as government-owned stations are well-funded and supported. This is evident in Egypt, where a number of private television channels have either been shut down or had their presenters and journalists arrested for failing to remain in line with the state rhetoric.

As the founder of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Holding, a subsidiary of the family conglomerate Orascom (established by his father), Sawiris led the company to become one of the largest telecommunication organisations in the world