Egypt — New Reality, Same Old Regime Propaganda

By Shahira Amin* 
Cairo, 14 May, 2012. As Egypt prepares for presidential elections in less than two weeks’ time, the country is on the brink of chaos. Tensions have been brewing for more than a year and the patience of Egyptians is wearing thin. They yearn for stability and many feel betrayed by the country’s de facto military rulers who have held power since Mubarak was toppled in February 2011.

“The ruling military generals who promised us stability have only delivered brutality and repression,” complained 24-year-old activist Tarek Ali at a protest two weeks ago outside the Defence Ministry in Abbasia.

The violent confrontations between pro-democracy activists and security forces that have erupted sporadically during the transitional period have been the focus of local media, but once again there has been a stark contrast between the independent media coverage of the deadly violence and that shown on Egyptian State TV.

Democracy activists accuse state television of launching a vicious defamation campaign against them — one which, they say, has largely succeeded in turning public opinion against them.

The Vilification Campaign

“Right after last year’s mass uprising, everyone was proud of the young activists who started our revolution,” says taxi driver Maher Sobhy. “Now, we hate them for causing chaos and instability.”

The vilification campaign is reminiscent of a similar campaign launched by the state-run broadcaster during last year’s 18-day mass uprising. State TV has long been described by critics as “a propaganda machine” of the ousted authoritarian regime. The broadcaster initially dismissed the anti-Mubarak protests as nonevents, labelling the pro-democracy activists as “foreign agents” and “anarchists.”

The TV Manipulation Machinery

When pro-Mubarak rallies were staged on 1 February 2011, state TV channels exaggerated the number of protesters, reporting that “the streets were flooded with thousands of Mubarak supporters” instead of the few hundred who were in fact there. Many Egyptians turned to foreign satellite channels and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to follow the events in central Cairo. Angry protesters in Tahrir Square retaliated by carrying banners that denounced and ridiculed state TV, branding presenters who worked there “liars”.

But halfway through the uprising, state TV made an abrupt turnaround, adopting a more pro-revolutionary tone.

Media analysts saw the change as a sign that the regime was losing its grip on power. But the shift had come too late and state TV had already lost many of its viewers.

For a few weeks after the fall of Mubarak, state television fought to regain credibility. Opposition figures, including Islamists who had not been welcome in the building, were invited to appear on talk shows, and state TV reporters made a noticeable effort to enhance the ratings of their channels through factual, unbiased reporting.

Back to Old Habits

But the spell of freedom was short-lived and news editors and anchors soon fell back into their old habits. State employees began practicing self-censorship again after several journalists and talk show hosts working for private channels were summoned to the Military Prosecutors’ office after they criticised the military regime.

Two bloggers were convicted in military courts for expressing their views in blog posts and on Facebook — a move that sent a strong message to journalists and broadcasters that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) would not tolerate criticism.

Tamer Hanafi, a news anchor working for the Arabic state-run Nile TV was investigated a few months after the revolution for refusing to heed calls from the station manager to abruptly cut his programme short after his studio guest, the outspoken activist Bothayna Kamel lashed out at the military rulers on air.

Tamer, his face flushed with anger, told viewers that he had been ordered to end the show but that he would continue because he did not see anything wrong with Bothayna’s comments.

Other presenters and reporters who attempted to stand up to censorship have been sternly reprimanded by their bosses in recent months. Finding that the stakes are high — they could lose their jobs — most state employees have reverted to the old ways, obediently following directives from senior management.

“Read This!”

News anchors complain that they have to read what their editors write without questioning the source. One senior anchor, who spoke on condition of anonymity said she had had to read that “the Emergency Law was in place to guarantee freedoms” and that “protesters in Kasr El Eini were hurling rocks at the military forces” when there had actually been an exchange of rock throwing.

“Any anchor who deviates from the adopted state line lands in trouble,” she lamented. During most of the protests, state TV broadcast exclusive footage of the ongoing clashes shot by the Ministry of Interior, most of it portraying the soldiers and riot police as victims rather than aggressors.

The Military Has replaced Mubarak

Little has changed at the state broadcaster where the anchor lamented that “SCAF has replaced Mubarak as the red line not to be crossed.”

Despairingly the anchor explained that the senior military general who was appointed Minister of Information now exercises control over all broadcasts and ensures that state TV continues to churn out propaganda messages about the lack of security, foreign meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs, the threats foreign-funded NGOs pose to national security or the plummeting stock market.

State TV’s flagrantly biased coverage of the deadly October clashes last year between Coptic protesters and security forces triggered another wave of stinging criticism of the state broadcaster, once again earning it the wrath of the public.

Accusing New Networks

The news network was accused of inciting the sectarian violence in which at least 27 people were killed — some of them crushed to death by army tanks — after Channel One’s lead anchorwoman Rasha Magdy urged Muslims “to protect the army from Christian attackers.

”Although an investigative committee later cleared state TV of the charge, critics like media expert Hisham Qassem say repeating the mistakes of the past has cost the broadcaster its reputation for life.

Sixteen months after the onset of Egypt’s uprising, Egyptians are still struggling to shed decades of repression and transform their country into a democratic and free society. In a country where 35 per cent of the population is illiterate and relies heavily on the state-run broadcaster for information, a highly politicised, partisan state TV is a major impediment to the democratic process.

Partisan State TV, Major Impediment to Democratic Process

“The ruling generals who have on several occasions since the revolution turned their guns on peaceful protesters are using State TV as another weapon to kill the revolution,” said 29 year- old activist Waleed Hamdy. They know it is a powerful tool and have used it to further their interests.”

*Shahira Amin is a well know Egyptian journalist and analyst. Currently she is Senior Anchor/Correspondent, Nile TV, and CNN contributor. Amin resigned from NileTV in an open protest against the biased, pro-regime coverage of the Egyptian revolution, which she actively joined in Tahrir Square. Shahira Amin is known for her unwavering defence of freedom, democracy, social justice and gender equality. Her article was first published by UNCUT Index on censorship. Go to Original

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