Egypt: Al-Jazeera’s Cameras Blind to Revolutionaries
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012
During the days of the January revolution, al-Jazeera’s coverage was indispensable. Now, Qatar’s support for Egyptian President Mursi has skewed the channel’s coverage of popular protests, prompting many to tune in to private Egyptian channels.
Cairo – The active role played by al-Jazeera television network during the 25 January 2011 Egyptian revolution led to sentiments of solidarity following the torching of the news channel’s offices around two weeks ago on 22 October 2012.
This support for the channel did not stop activists from criticizing al-Jazeera’s weak coverage of the Final Warning Million March last Tuesday.
Al-Jazeera’s Live Egypt station is no longer the preferred choice of revolutionaries now that there are alternative Egyptian stations in abundance following the revolution. It also didn’t help that the channel’s coverage of the recent “million person” marches and major protests left much to be desired since this time, the million was surrounding the presidential palace of Mohammed Mursi.
Ever since the removal of Hosni Mubarak, the channel has been accused of bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Mursi’s political current.
This never stopped the protesters in Tahrir Square from welcoming the Qatari news channel and its correspondents, who are the most popular among the revolutionaries, compared with other Egyptian channels.
The latter were accustomed to providing insipid coverage of major events, especially those where the conflict is between the street and the regime, whether the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) or Mursi, who today represents the MB in the Egyptian presidential palace.
Last Tuesday, however, the picture began to change. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched from all over Cairo to al-Ittihadiya presidential palace in Heliopolis north of Cairo. They wanted their voice to reach Mursi in his own home after he refused to listen to their demands from Tahrir Square.
Al-Jazeera decided to cover the protests in a detached manner, relying mostly on in-studio discussions. It wasn’t interested in the protesters or broadcasting their positions on air. This would have meant that Mursi would have to listen to what he did not want to hear. His detractors, sheltering under Tahrir’s legitimacy, are still very angry at his political decisions.
Moreover, an al-Jazeera correspondent decided to play the devil’s advocate in his interviews with some protesters. He asked, “Did you read the constitution?” Of course, the answer was, “No.” The correspondent replied, “So why doth thou protest?”
The correspondent said this in full knowledge that neither the constitution’s supporters nor the opponents had read the document because the disagreement is centered on the way it was drafted. The actual flaws have yet to be considered by the people due to the current clash with the regime and lack of time.
The angry protesters maintain that Qatar’s support for Mursi has influenced the channel’s direction. It even impacts the location of its camera in Tahrir Square, to make it look empty or full.
The disappointment was not just expressed at the screen. Activists clashed with al-Jazeera’s news presenter Jamal Rayyan over Twitter after the latter surprised everyone with statements opposing the demonstrations against the constitutional declaration.
The Jordanian-Palestinian presenter wrote, “If I was in the place of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, I would have done what US president George Bush Sr. did when he deployed the army in Los Angeles to put a stop to the chaos.”
Rayyan attacked Egyptian media networks, saying they were out of control and responsible for inciting tumult, the same accusation thrown at al-Jazeera during the early days of the revolution.
Private Egyptian television channels, feeling the threat of Mursi’s regime, were eager to cover the Ittihadiya protests. The screens were split once again, with windows to Tahrir Square, the presidential palace, and Maspero – the site of Egypt’s official television, which became the latest target of demonstrations due to its continued favor towards the the regime.
For the very first time, Egyptian channels used methods that were once only available to al-Jazeera: cars drove alongside the demonstrations, carrying processions live while other reporters covered events at the presidential palace, awaiting a confrontation that ended with the protesters easily reaching the palace gates.
Channels such as ONTV, al-Nahar, and CBC were able to endure the task and cover the events. Not many viewers cared much for the SMS messages in support of Mursi that were scrolling at the bottom of al-Jazeera Live Egypt’s screen.
Its presenter, Ayman Azzam, found some balance. When one of the callers told him that the volume of support messages reaching the channel is a reflection of Mursi’s popular support, Azzam replied that this should not be taken as an indicator, since someone has been sending dozens of messages from the same phone number.
A while ago, it was claimed that al-Jazeera allowed tampering with its online opinion polls about the Egyptian constitution on its website. It immediately announced that its results were inaccurate.
Egypt’s official channel, on the other hand, attempted some balance, but kept failing in regaining viewer trust, especially after allowing calls that reminded Egyptians of those that were fabricated by Mubarak’s people during the revolution.
One example is a phone call to Nile News by an amateur sheikh who said that as a graduate of al-Azhar, one of the major Islamic schools in the region, he does not believe Mursi broke his oath to respect the law and constitution.
He said that Mursi’s latest decrees “are meant to uphold the law, from the point of view of the president who is charged with protecting the country.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.