NPR Story
6:42 pm
Mon July 15, 2013

Egypt Government Cracks Down On News Media

Originally published on Fri July 12, 2013 2:45 pm

In Egypt, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are being charged with inciting violence in the days after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the Egyptian military.

But it’s not just supporters of Morsi who are being targeted.

Andrew Hosken of the BBC reports that members of the media who are seen as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood are also facing a crackdown.

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Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

To Egypt now where leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are being charged with inciting violence after the military ousted the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. But members of the media are also facing pressure. The BBC's Andrew Hosken reports from Cairo.

ANDREW HOSKEN: Behind me is the River Nile, and across a very busy road, there is a huge, brown, concrete, rather ugly building. In front I can see three armored personnel carriers manned by a platoon of rather bored-looking soldiers, and in front of the main access there are swirls of barbed wire.

The heavy security is not for a barracks, a police station or a presidential palace. This, believe it or not, is the headquarters of Egypt's state broadcaster.

The army took control of the TV studios within hours of toppling President Morsi. The generals then moved swiftly to block the transmissions of four other TV stations.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL PROTESTS)

HOSKEN: Outside the offices in Cairo of the main journalist's union, the Journalist's Syndicate, the name of Ahmed Assam(ph) is called out. Journalists have been protesting about the death of Assam, a 26-year-old press photographer and one of more than 50 people who died in the violence earlier this week outside the Cairo officer's club.

Mustafa Khattab(ph) is a journalist on the Freedom and Justice Newspaper, the official voice of the Muslim Brotherhood. He claims Assam's death is symbolic, (unintelligible) repression by state security forces of media freedom.

MUSTAFA KHATTAB: About three months ago, I was deliberately targeted by thugs like this, and I was injured, and I stayed in hospital for three days and at home for two weeks because they knew that I am affiliated to Freedom and Justice Newspaper. So people around the world do not know about what's happening to us. The battle now is very clear between the people who were advocating the ideas and values of 25th January revolution ideas and morals, and those who are corrupt and related to the old regime.

The media detainees in recent days have included international television crews and 28 employees of one broadcaster said to have infuriated the army and security services more than any other, Al Jazeera. Astonishingly, Egyptian journalists have also participated in the harassment of officially unpopular colleagues.

HOSKEN: At an army press conference this week, an Al Jazeera reporter was ejected by his peers while chanting out, out and then applauding when he'd gone. Al Jazeera has been accused of being an open supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, until last week Egypt's ruling political force. The broadcaster denies being biased in favor of the brothers.

Ayman Gaballah, the head of Al Jazeera in Egypt, was among the 28 arrested when the police raided the broadcaster's offices. After his release, he flew to the station's HQ in Qatar. I spoke to him over the Internet.

AYMAN GABALLAH: Some people are working to the side of the government, this school of journalism, of neutrality and objectives is not pretty known. There's been a systematic campaign to intimidate the free media. So you either get intimidated and change your message, or at least they make people don't trust you and don't use you. It's sort of the McCarthy period in the West.

HOSKEN: Human rights activists in Egypt have voices their concerns over the last week or so of the latest human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and the torture of detainees. They say they're also worried about media freedom, one of the great goals of the February 2011 revolution.

Diana Eltahawy is from Amnesty International.

DIANA ELTAHAWY: Independent media and journalists who are critical have found themselves under attack. They are judicially harassed, they are sometimes violently attacked. We hope that there's no return to this today and particularly as the constitutional declaration does set limitation to the freedom of expression and the freedom of press.

And for instance it doesn't prohibit the criminalization of libel or defamation, which has been a tool used by successive governments in Egypt.

HOSKEN: The security services have evoked the issue of national security for the action taken against the media in the last week, preventing journalists using their public platforms to incite violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL PROTEST)

HOSKEN: Some journalists have even protested in favor of the army and its chief of staff, General al-Sisi. But Mohammed Abdul Kudis(ph), a journalists' union leader, believes they're misguided.

MOHAMMED ABDUL KUDIS: (Through translation) The evidence of the bias of the media is the biggest (unintelligible) ever happened in any (unintelligible) in Egypt, more than 50 people killed in a matter of two hours, and yet look at the media, they are all giving excuses to the army. No one is even questioning the army, why they kill people, more than 50 people. So that gives you an idea how is media working these days. That's why right after the massacres I personally wrote and told al-Sisi, Egypt's Bashar al-Assad.

HOSKEN: It's clear that Egypt's new interim rulers, and the army in particular, worry very much about how they're perceived, not just in Egypt but by the U.S. and the rest of the international community. Media freedom is an important weathervane for the country's fragile democracy, and there's no doubt there are risks for the new regime in silencing troublesome voices.

CHAKRABARTI: The BBC's Andrew Hosken, reporting there from Cairo. News is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.