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Egypt to its journalists: Turn a blind eye, or adopt our viewpoint!

The State Information Service objects to the fact that some media "are still falling short of describing the (anti-Morsi protests) of June 30 as an expression of a popular will."

Amid the ongoing, yet bloody confrontations between the Egyptian military-led government on one hand and supporters of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi on the other, local and foreign journalists alike are being shot at, assaulted, or detained.

On August 14, when the government launched a brutal crackdown on two pro-Morsi protest encampments in the Cairo and Giza governorates, the raids sparked violent clashes between Egypt's security forces and Morsi's proponents nationwide. Over 600 people were killed and almost 4000 injured by Thursday, August 15, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry.

Five journalists have been confirmed killed since August 14. Sky News Cameraman, Mick Deane, and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz of the Dubai-based Gulf News newspaper, were shot dead while covering the violence that erupted on Wednesday, August 14. Also, the photographer Mossab al-Shami of Cairo's Rassd News Network (RNN), and the state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper's reporter, Ahmed AbdelGawad, were both reportedly shot dead during covering the violent breakup of protest camps outside Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Nasr City, Cairo, on the same day.

Five days later, Tamer Abdel Raouf, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram's regional bureau chief, was shot dead at a military checkpoint after a night-time curfew had fallen. In an attempt to shift the burden of guilt to the aforementioned journalist, the military said in its statement that soldiers fired warning shots before shooting at the car which was violating the curfew, denying that any shoot-to-kill policy was in place. But, Hamed Al-Barbari, another reporter from the Egyptian daily Al-Gomhoria who was accompanying Abdel Raouf and only suffered from hand and leg injuries, rebutted the military's claim by saying that he and his deceased friend obeyed the soldiers' orders to turn back, but they opened fire anyway as Abdel Raouf was making a U-turn!

Many media watchdogs have urged the Egyptian authorities to investigate the attacks on journalists, decrying the casualties that mounted steeply after the clearance of the two sit-ins by security forces, backed by armoured vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters. The Egyptian human rights group Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has meanwhile reported 32 separate violations against local journalists, including assaults, detentions and confiscation of press equipment, on August 14 alone. Later on, AFTE issued another report enumerating the violations against journalists carrying out their work mostly in Cairo on August 16 and 17. They say there were 12 separate violations against local and foreign journalists: two people missing, two reporters injured by rubber bullets and live rounds, another two journalists detained by security forces, and six journalists reportedly assaulted and beaten up by civilians.

The Wall Street Journal's Matt Bradley, the Independent's Alastair Beach, Patrick Kingsley of the Guardian and the Brazilian journalist Hugo Bachega, were among the journalists who have been harassed and threatened by Egypt's security officers or civilians in the past few days. 

Khaled El Balshi, board member of Egypt's Press Syndicate, told the Qatar-based Doha Centre for Media Freedom, a non-profit organization working for press freedom and quality journalism in the Middle East, that the Syndicate has received numerous reports indicating that journalists were specifically targeted by both the pro-Morsi protesters and security forces, because they were carrying cameras in their hands, adding that "testimonies from survivors confirmed that there is a state of targeting journalists in general."

It's worth mentioning that Egypt's state-run media outlets, along with the privately-owned ones in Egypt, have been united in driving home the same messages; defending whatever the military-led government does, whilst demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters by referring to them as "terrorists"!

This disheartening climate for journalists became even more tense and strained on August 17, when the State Information Service(SIS) issued an English-language statement to the foreign media excoriating their coverage of recent events. The statement criticizes some foreign reporters for steering away from "objectivity" and "neutrality" in their coverage of Egypt's events. "Egypt is feeling severe bitterness towards some Western media coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood and ignores shedding light on violent and terror acts that are perpetrated by this group," the statement pointed out. Much to the chagrin of the Egyptian government, many foreign media outlets are still describing Morsi's ouster as a military coup. So, the SIS's statement objected to the fact that some media "are still falling short of describing the (anti-Morsi protests) of June 30 as an expression of a popular will."

Later the same day, Egyptian presidency spokesman Mustafa Hegazy seemed to reiterate the SIS statement by condemning the international media's perceived bias in a press conference. When a journalist "dared" to ask Mr. Hegazy about the growing hostility towards the foreign media, the latter said that Egyptians were disappointed in the foreign media, specially when overlooking stories of MB's supporters killing soldiers, burning churches, not to mention using women and children as human shields.

One must conclude that the Egyptian government is keen either to instigate a media blackout by targeting local and foreign journalists trying to carry out their work, or, to find a way of persuading media outlets both at home and worldwide to adopt their own viewpoint. 

About the author

Ahmed Magdy Youssef holds an MA in Global Journalism from Örebro University in Sweden. He has researched the media coverage of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and is currently monitoring the Egyptian media system through the national media watch group, Egypt's Media Credibility Index (MCE Watch).  


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