Muzzling of Media by Egyptian Military Reaches High Point

A demonstrator looks on at Tahrir Square after Friday prayers in Cairo on 30 September 2011. Egyptian activists converged on downtown Cairo on Friday for a demonstration to press military rulers to speed up the transfer of power to civilians and revoke emergency laws once used by ousted President Hosni Mubarak. (Photo: REUTERS - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Mohammad Abdel Rahman

Published Sunday, October 23, 2011

The cancellation of a major TV show and harassment of two of Egypt's top journalists Yosri Fouda and Ibrahim Issa is leaving little doubt that Egypt's military is bent on silencing any voices of criticism backing the January 25 revolution.

Thursday night was rough for Egyptian media. Yosri Fouda’s episode of The Last Word (Akher Kallam) program was not shown to a national audience. The show was supposed to host Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany and fellow talk show host Ibrahim Issa. The journalist Yasser Rizk, an advocate of the current Egyptian governing council, was also expected to make an appearance. The program aimed to comment on an interview with two members of the military council that aired the previous night on Dream TV. It was also expected to address reactions to Gaddafi’s assassination.

An hour before the show, Fouda tweeted that it was pulled off the air. He then said that he would issue a statement unravelling the dubious circumstances of the show’s cancellation. In the subsequent statement, Fouda announced the indefinite suspension of his show, alluding that “there are serious efforts to retain the essence of the regime that people wanted overthrown...And these efforts [are] all intended to directly or indirectly pressure those still believing in the revolution’s noble aims.” The suspension of the show “is my form of self-censorship. I have the choice between saying the truth or nothing at all,” he concluded. ONTV spokesman then confirmed that Fouda, who had become a prominent anchor after the revolution, had not resigned from the channel, and that the crisis would be resolved.

Events in the preceding 48 hours had precipitated Fouda’s statement. Last Tuesday, the 10 pm show on Dream TV started to intensively advertise a special episode hosting members of the military council. It was to be a groundbreaking scoop for Mona el-Shazly and her co-host for the night, Ibrahim Issa from Al Tahrir channel.

On the same night, Fouda decided not to appear on TV to join Egyptian audience in watching the program. Scheduled just 10 days after the Maspero massacre, the episode was unmissable, for people were eager to see what the military council had to say for itself after receiving sharp criticism from the Egyptian public for the crackdown on Copts during the recent protest.

Fouda dedicated his Thursday night episode to comment on Wednesday’s interview. Alaa al-Aswany, one of the most prominent critics of the military council, was to be a guest on the show. Al-Aswany, who is a highly acclaimed Egyptian writer and novelist, believes that the Egyptian revolution’s goals were not fulfilled due to the military council’s political decisions.

But Wednesday’s episode with Major Generals Mohammad Assar and Mahmoud Hijazi turned out to be an utter disappointment. The hosts el-Shazly and Issa had failed to draw out any new statements from the Major Generals. The council officials were resolved on using the media to spread the military council’s propaganda, and they had no intention of disclosing the truth that the public demanded. The interview was a mere repetition of the statements given by the military council after the revolution. It was the same broken record, the same void affirmations on how “strong the ties are between the army and the people.” Their statements were flagrant lies and blatantly brushed off the accusations directed against the army for targeting the Copts during the tragic massacre.

On a political level, the major generals seemed quite content with the government’s performance, despite all the recent criticism. Moreover, the hosts’ questions seemed weak, reserved, and “chopped off.” This was partly because the two hosts did not complement one another, but mostly because their guests restricted their responses to specific issues.

But Ibrahim Issa, who was a guest on Fouda’s un-aired show, stated that the interview questions were somewhat pre-determined, though he was not informed about this until the last minute. He also said that he was subjected to harassment on-air by el-Shazly and her program’s work team, which took its toll on his performance.

Wednesday’s shameful interview and the cancellation of Thursday’s show are merely slight reflections of the overwhelming pressure exerted on Egyptian satellite TV stations in the last three months. And the situation is still deteriorating. The onslaught began when media personalities like Reem Magd from ONTV were hunted down one by one and summoned by military prosecutors to ‘discuss’ certain statements that were made on their shows. This was soon followed by the resignation of Mahmoud Saad and Bilal Fadel from Al Tahrir channel.

There is a long list of crimes committed by Egyptian authorities against media, rampant attempts to gag freedom of speech and restrict media personalities. Media freedoms have nearly hit rock bottom. An Egyptian office for Al Jazeera was raided and shut down, and other TV channels are being subject to broadcast interference or other government intervention. But the real dagger in the chest was the flagrant and overt bias toward the military demonstrated by the Egyptian state media in its coverage of the Maspero massacre. Their angle praised the military for a tragedy that Egyptians denounced and condemned. Even more deplorable, no one was held accountable for the bloodshed and unjust deaths of the massacre.

The people now have a clear idea about the indirect censorship of Egyptian satellite TV channels and their talk shows. This is especially true if a program addresses issues of the military council’s management of state affairs.

Nevertheless, some activists are not intimidated by the military council. They’ve tweeted about an open popular underwriting to launch a channel that “can’t be tamed.” It’s public (though non-governmental) ownership would give it flexibility that private channels owned by businesspeople may not have. But would the regime find or create means to restrict such an independent channel’s freedom if it ever became a reality? The people are still thirsty for honest, professional, and independent media after being deprived of it for decades under the regime of the ousted Mubarak.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Almost the whole world is happy with the winds of change that took place in Egypt recently. We in India were inspired by it and I think just after the success of Egyptian revolution, the movement against corruption in India started gaining momentum. Now that new year is here and valentine's day is coming, I hope people in Egypt can experience peace and love after their struggle. Dedicating one of the valentine's day quotes I really like to you all - The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love - Hubert Humphrey. I wonder why don't corrupt people realize that ultimately love for humanity is the source of real joy and peace. And finally, to conclude with Mahatma Gandhis words - When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it, always.

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