“Their problems are mine,” explains
honored Egyptian journalist Amr Ellissy
Above and beyond typical rural reporting
Innovative, persistent reporting efforts that extend far beyond typical news coverage have earned Egyptian journalist Amr Ellissy the 2010 UNESCO-IPDC Prize for Rural Communication.
He was recognized during March through the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This international prize, awarded every other year, recognizes meritorious and innovative activity in improving communication in rural communities, chiefly in the developing countries.
Ellissy is editor-in-chief of ElKhamis newspaper and anchor of two television programs in Egypt. One is the documentary program, “Ekhterak,” aired on Egyptian State Television. The other is a weekly social program,”Wahed Men El-Nas” (“One from the Public”), on Dream TV. Both programs inform rural populations on issues directly concerning them, especially issues related to education and health.
Ellissy seeks to work with governmental authorities and civil society organizations to find solutions to social problems in rural areas, the award announcement explains. He also carries out fundraising and public campaigns through his television programmes.
What does this exceptional rural journalism involve?
We approached Ellissy to learn more about his award-winning approach to rural journalism. Following are his responses to questions about how he operates as a professional journalist and what motivates him in his efforts.
1. Keys to undertaking this kind of rural communication
How did you become interested in serving the information needs of rural people and communities?
Since I started my career as a journalist and television presenter, I was concerned with history and documentation of history of modern Egypt, my country. I started a series of investigative journalism programmes featuring important events that marked our recent history: assassination of our late president Sadat, reigning period of President Nasser, the late Egyptian Monarchy and King Farouk. I always had a fixed topic at the beginning of my programmes to address a public issue. These issues were mainly rural because rural communities compose a majority in our Egyptian community.
This approach continued in my historical documentary programme for years and till I had the chance to edit and produce another programme at a private channel. This programme had another different scope. It addressed only rural communities and their problems. Even the name of the programme denoted them: “One from the Public.”
I had an inner desire of serving those people, making their voice heard and. transmitting their complaints to authorities. My mission was to use my media tool to help them with the basic needs: clean water, good education and proper infrastructure facilities and health services.
I can say that I succeeded in my mission to some extent, by persistence and perseverance – and mainly by being true and sincere in conveying messages to the concerned authorities.
2. Some rural issues addressed
What kinds of rural issues have you addressed and initiatives have you undertaken through your media efforts?
The program is based on the concept of merging new, influential electronic media tools within a T.V. programme. These new tools include the Internet (which has emerged with its strong impact and widespread use by people) and virtual communication groups (Facebook and electronic weblogs). Through this port, we are furthering the use of T.V. and electronic communication media in favour of the proper connection of the rural society; raising public awareness in rural areas.
Samples of rural issues addressed:
- Field visits to poor, isolated, heavily populated slum areas where basic infrastructure services are lacking. I refer, for example, to lack of clean water, housing, health, sewage and elementary education services. Televised images and stories from these visits transmit a realistic picture that helps increase public understanding and foster the involvement of civil societies for eradication of the problems.
- Fundraising through campaigns presented by the program and initiated through the program Facebook groups; as well as my personal website [www.amrellissy.com]. These fundraising campaigns have involved issues such as supporting imprisoned women, encouraging blood donations and supporting national public hospitals to serve a wide sector of poor and middle class residents. The hospital campaigns involved support from public figures and celebrities, such as T.V. stars and football players.
- Initiating a campaign for employment of Egyptian youth .Unemployment of rural and urban youth is a major problem in Egypt. It reaches about 17 percent, according to Investment Authority figures. The T.V. program and related internet communication tools helped vectors, governmental authorities, civil societies and private sector organizations tackle this problem.
- Televising the treatment of difficult sick cases. Through a crew of volunteers and specialized physicians, selected patients featured in the program are offered the best medical care, including medical services, hospital stays and adequate follow up.
3. Some of the results achieved
What results have you seen in connection with your efforts as a journalist to address rural issues such as these?
a. Establishment of the Municipality for Development of Slum Areas by a ministerial decree issued in 2009, with a total sum of 55 million Egyptian pounds as a primary stage. This was partly in response to our television programming that explored and featured slum and needy rural areas which were – and are – present.
b. Fostering a new joint program with the Near East and Africa Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) through the Telefood program to help ease poverty and eradicate hunger. This program was announced in Cairo, November 2009.
c. Fundraising for public hospitals, namely the National Cancer Institute: The campaign, supported by our television program, has raised around 100 million Egyptian pounds, as announced by the dean of the Institute.
d. Helping supply about 5,000 jobs, made available through the Ministry of Petroleum (governmental) and private sector companies.
e. Social and health support for a poor family through each television episode: Support may take the form of housing for a homeless family, medical care and other services.
f. As a Giving Ambassador at the World Health Organization (WHO) for blood donation, I hastened a campaign to encourage blood donations in 2009.. This campaign was commended by the Ministry of Health, as blood is one of the deficiencies in the health sector in Egypt.
g. Through the television program we offered small loans for young motivated investors. These loans were possible through a direct connection with the Funding Agency for Social Development, a governmental authority for sponsoring youth projects. This loan program was announced during late 2009.
h. The television episode related to imprisoned women has resulted in a quick governmental response. The governor of Guiza, Cairo governorate, dedicated land for the construction of an integrated project for housing and empowerment of imprisoned women and their children after being released. This was mediated through a non-governmental organization, Imprisoned Women Children Association.
4. Advice to rural journalists
What advice might you offer to IFAJ members and other rural journalists throughout the world about involving – and serving – rural residents and communities?
My aim was to ensure that the aspirations of poor, emarginated and disadvantaged people are properly and successfully voiced to the governmental authorities, creating thus a dynamic society that is committed to sustainable development. The main advice I offer my colleagues:
BELIEVE, BE SINCERE AND BE PATIENT !!!
When I believe in my mission, I will be able to transmit it properly to authorities. My work is not easy. I go on field visits, go down to people, hear their problems. They are real…my community…part of me. Their problems are mine. Maybe I am not suffering as they suffer, but the continuity of their problems will be transmitted to me indirectly…and in the near future I may suffer as they.
So I work to protect my children, and save them a better future. I use the tools bestowed upon me to participate in creating for them a better life. And I hope and wish to continue this started mission.
Another piece of advice to my colleagues is NEVER BE DESPERATE. Our mission is hard and results may not be immediate…so, just be patient and your good wills will always rule.
How you can follow up
· Learn more about the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)
· See samples of his interviewing style on program segments that are available on YouTube. Go to www.youtube.com and search on
Egyptian journalist amr ellissy.
· Get in touch with Amr Ellissy at his official website: www.amrellissy.com
(This professional development feature is provided through a partnership of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, University of Illinois.)