Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Will Military Ensure Media Freedom in Egypt?



As political uncertainty hit Egypt today (July 2) with the country’s minister of defence and army chief, General Abdel Fatah Al-Sissi announcing that Mohammad Morsi was no longer the president and the constitution was suspended, media watchdogs urged the military to respect media freedom.

Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said, “Those in power have long used state media as their political tool … but in these critical times, when Egyptians are desperate for independent information, the news media should not be political pawns.”

CPJ’s website said that the army had been maintaining a presence at the State-run television station’s headquarters since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak over a year ago. It said that although the military had entered the newsroom today to “monitor content” of telecasts, staff had reported that there had been no interference. CPJ also said Information Minister Salah Abdul Maqsoud had been forced out of the station. Maqsoud had exercised editorial control of the station’s broadcasts.

While the future remains in question with the removal of Morsi, the record of media freedom in Egypt has remained poor. The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said that violence in Cairo on June 30 had resulted in injuries to 10 journalists. CPJ reported that Saleh El-Din Hassen who was covering night protests at Port Said on June 28 was killed when someone lobbed a homemade bomb at him. An American student who was photographing protests in Alexandria was stabbed to death also on June 28.

RSF also reported that the Egyptian NGO Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression had reported that Mohamed Heeza who worked for Welad Al Balad, a newspaper critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, was abducted in the city of Mansourah on June 27. He was tortured and questioned about his colleagues. RSF statement also included official confirmation that a Dutch woman photographing demonstrations at Tahrir Square in Cairo on June 28 was attacked and raped by five men.

RSF said that while in office Morsi had threatened the opposition and journalists critical of him and warned private media institutions against sullying his image, of inciting violence and being funded by supporters of the former Mubarak regime. Three TV stations were closed following this RSF said. “The threats uttered by President Morsi and the pressure exercised by the authorities violated freedom of information and the independence of both the state and privately-owned media,” RSF said.

Although not strictly pertaining to media freedom, the effects of Egypt’s democratically elected president being ousted with the backing of the military although with overwhelming popular support remains crucial. Although popular support has resulted in protestations against characterising what is going on in Egypt as a military coup, the events have created misgivings among democrats.

David Gardner of the Financial Times reflected such misgivings when he wrote on July 2, “The uniformed men of providence who created this problem will not be its solution. The inability of the Muslim Brothers to emerge from the catacombs of the national security state is no excuse for their opponents – who recent polls say could command greater popular support than the Islamists – to fling themselves into military arms. Democracy needs democrats, not a deus ex machina in uniform.”
  
We have to wait and see whether uniformed men will ensure media freedom in Egypt. If the last time they controlled State power - the 18 interim months between the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the election of Morsi - is any indication, they had very little to show for themselves

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