Egypt’s Polls…State-owned Media Drops
|Wednesday, November 23,2005 00:00|
|By Islam online,|
Egypt’s Polls…State-owned Media Drops "Fig Leaf"
CAIRO, November 23, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) - While intimidation and wide-scale violence are making the headlines of Egypt’s hottest ever parliamentary elections, the state-owned media coverage and performance in general reflected a deep state of chaos, "highly indicative" of the political atmosphere in the largest Arab country.
"The state-owned largest three press corporations have revealed their true face in covering the elections. The largest three dailies in Egypt can no more be referred to as national papers. These are National Democratic Party’s (NDP) mouthpieces," Magdy Al-Gallad, Chief Editor of Egypt’s only independent daily Al-Masry Al-Yom, told IOL Wednesday, November 23.
Egyptian parliamentary polls kicked off Wednesday, November 9, where 164 seats were up for grabs in the first round and run-offs were contested Tuesday, November 15.
The second round was held Sunday, November 20, and run-offs are to be held Saturday, November 26. A total of 144 seats are up for grabs in this round; of these only 22 were settled and the remaining 122 are still awaiting run-offs.
While state-owned media in Egypt has long been known for its staunch support of the regime, despite being – according to the law – national, not party media, observers, media experts and the public opinion believe the longest election season in the Egyptian history witnessed the fall of the "fig leaf".
"The presidential elections in September and the current general polls highlighted, beyond any doubt, not only the staunch support by the these so-called national papers to the government and regime, but also their extremist tendency to clearly side with the NDP and its candidates," Al-Gallad added.
"The report by the Independent Media Observatory on the press performance during the elections stated that over 90% of what Al-Ahram published (on elections) and 86% of what Al-Akhbar published were campaigning for NDP candidates."
Some highly unprofessional and nonobjective practices by Egypt’s "national media" in covering the elections have again raised serious questions on the future of sound coverage and integrity of some of the largest media corporations in the Arab world.
"What Al-Gomhorya did is nothing short of a press scandal by all means," chief editor of one of Egyptian independent weeklies told IOL Wednesday, referring not to be named.
He was referring to one of Egypt’s state-owned largest three dailies. Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar complete the list.
Al-Misaa daily, another state-owned daily published by Darul Tahrir Publishing Corporation that also publishes Al-Gomhorya, ran a headline Monday, November 21, declaring that NDP heavyweight Dr. Mostafa Al-Fiqy had lost outright to Muslim Brotherhood candidate and former MP Dr. Gamal Hishmat, with over 20,000 votes difference in favor of the MB candidate.
Al-Gomhorya daily, the big brother publication of Al-Misaa, Tuesday, November 22, ran a major headline reading: "NDP scores crushing victory in the second round of polls", with a sub-headline reading: "Al-Fiqy trounces Hishmat".
Neither Al-Gomhorya nor any other state-owned daily sought to the clear contradictions to their readers (a well-established press practice), not even by attributing the previously published results to unofficial results or MB sources, raising serious questions not only about loyalties, but also about the application of professional press measures.
"Chief Editors of these papers have completely dropped any professional standards or ethics of the press to prove their staunch support for the NDP, both in the run-up to and during the polls," a source, working with one of these largest three dailies, told IOL Wednesday, November 23, asking not to be named.
The case is no better with Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar, whose headlines Tuesday, November, either ignored direct references to the second round of general polls’ results or highlighted "major gains" by the NDP.
In the second round, only 22 seats have been settled outright, of these the Muslim Brotherhood grabbed 13. Yet, headlines of "national media" gave the NDP the thumbs-up.
"They (Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhorya) are covering another election, not the one we watch on Al-Jazeera or read about in Al-Masry Al-Yom," Mohamed, a university student, told IOL, in a sarcastic voice.
Both the Shura Council and the Higher Council of the Press are headed by former Minister of Information and NDP Secretary General Safwat Al-Sharief.
"Fact of the matter is chief editors of these press corporations are picked -- from a list provided by the Higher Council -- to President Mubarak," a member of the Higher Council of the Press told IOL, adding "security reports, not professional standards, are the decisive factor here".
El-Sayed Yassin, writer and consultant with Al-Ahram’s Center for Strategic and Political Studies, begged to differ though.
"I saw no problem with the press coverage. Papers announce the results they are told about by electoral sources."
But the problem is hardly limited to covering results in a way only an NDP paper may follow. Other professional flaws extend to campaigning for NDP candidates in a way that violates the simplest rules and ethics of the press and media in general.
The starkest and repeated example is running an a promotional piece for a candidate in the form of a piece of news or an editorial article, without the name of journalist or even an indication that the material is a paid ad.
Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader Mohamed Mahdi Akef may have summed up the whole media situation during the elections by saying: "A great deal of credit goes to state-owned media for their anti-Muslim Brotherhood coverage".
He was commenting on the huge gains the banned but largely tolerated group are making in the polls.
Glimpse of Hope
Observers agree that the performance of Egypt’s "national" media reflects the deterioration and hard times the dominant NDP is going through, indicating the hope for a free press lies only with independent media.
Some cultural elite and independent observers, however, have concerns over how the regime might deal with independent media once the election season is over.
But the majority of them believe the regime will not dare to gag the independent media as it has done for decades, due to a variety of reasons.
"It’s too late (for the regime) to return to the closures of papers and gagging of freedom-seekers. How can they control satellite channels or the Internet?" insisted Dr. Sahar El-Mogy, writer and English Literature teacher in Cairo University.
The activist writer further said that the damage done to state-owned media was "beyond repair", adding it was now up to independent media to step in and forcibly lead the drive of change.
Al-Gallad agreed, expecting independent press to flourish, at the expense of national press that suffers professional stagnation and unilateral vision of events.
"Fears are there that the state may take steps to curb freedom of expression, in a bid to decrease the huge damage and almost fatal blows that befell the NDP during the elections.
"But I think freedom is not a gift from any one nor can it be curbed by a state decision."
Al-Masry Al-Yom, whose first issue hit newsstands Monday, June 7, 2004, has gained huge grounds as Egypt’s first independent daily in decades, during the election season, that kicked off months ago with the national referendum on amending Constitution articles to allow multi-candidate presidential polls.