Thirteen candidates for Egypt's upcoming presidential elections remain standing, out of an original 23 candidates, some of whom were later disqualified.
As they gear up for the campaign period -- slated to begin April 30th -- they must abide by a campaign spending ceiling and take modern means of advertising into consideration, officials said.
Egyptian television began taking steps to air the candidates' campaign advertising and will give all candidates equal screen time, said Alaa Abd Rabbo, editor-in-chief of political programmes for the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), the governing body for Egypt's radio and TV programmes.
"Each candidate is allotted 30 minutes, five minutes for biographical information and the rest for the [candidate's] electoral platform, to be broadcast on nine TV channels as well as Radio Masr," Abd Rabbo said.
In addition to equal time slots allotted for the candidates, broadcasts will include instructional segments for citizens on the electoral process and how to vote, as well as news and follow-up reports on the work of the Higher Presidential Elections Commission (HPEC).
Media coverage of the presidential elections represents a major challenge for Egyptian media, especially since free elections are taking place for the first time in the country's modern history, Dr. Hammad Zaki, a media professor at Cairo University, told Al-Shorfa.
"Therefore, it is natural for some problems or violations of HPEC rules to arise, foremost among them being the period allotted for campaign advertising and campaign spending limits," he said.
The campaign advertising period is to run from April 30th to May 21st and the campaign spending ceiling has been set at 10 million Egyptian pounds ($1.7 million) for the first round, and 2 million pounds ($331,000) for the run-off round.
Many candidates believe the amount is too small, Zaki said.
He said a recent study prepared by one of his colleagues, Dr. Abdel Moneim al-Sayyid, argued that it is impossible for candidates to stay below the spending ceiling due to the high cost of advertising in newspapers and on satellite channels.
The study concluded that an earnest campaign by any candidate would cost no less than 100 million pounds ($16.5 million).
"The advertising period is too short considering Egypt's vast geographical area and especially the fact that it comprises 27 provinces, making it impossible for candidates to cover all provinces in that period of time. For that reason, many candidates started their campaigns early before the rules and conditions were announced, which created considerable disparities between candidates," Zaki said.
He said he expects media coverage to be decidedly disproportionate and unbalanced, especially on satellite channels and over electronic media, though he praised the plan adopted by Egypt's official television channel and called for it to be rolled out to all Egyptian satellite channels.
Setting spending limits for candidates has become difficult due to the emergence of new media and social networking sites, said Galal Yasser, director of the Yasser Publicity and Advertising Company.
"Election campaign advertising has moved from TV advertising or inundating the streets with posters to setting up Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and websites, and recruiting scores of young men to fill those sites with hundreds of daily news items about the candidate," Yasser said.
He said the presidential election has revived the advertising market in Egypt after a period of stagnation that began with the onset of Egypt's January 25 uprising.
Means of campaigning currently include cell phone text messages, social networking sites, street and wall posters, and old customs like affixing microphones to top of cars and roaming the suburbs and inner city streets, as well as holding elections rallies, replete with gifts and banquets, he said.
Some satellite channels have begun developing campaign advertising plans similar to Egypt's official television channel's plan and are working through their advertising agencies to persuade candidates to buy advertising time, Yasser said.