Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Local news broadcasts criticised

The poor coverage by state television of the recent Sinai attacks has led to increased criticism of the country’s media, writes Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

News of the deaths of 30 soldiers from the 101st battalion in terrorist attacks in Sinai last week first appeared on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, followed by foreign-based Arabic-language channels like Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and BBC Arabic.

Even foreign English-language news channels such as CNN were broadcasting coverage of the attacks before Egyptian state TV, which at first did not report the attacks and then attempted to play them down. The poor coverage has increased criticism of state TV, with many saying that the unprofessional response to a major news event is hurting the public broadcaster’s credibility.

State TV not only ignored the Sinai incidents, but also did not report the death of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, killed while demonstrating in Cairo on the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, or the disturbances that took place throughout the country during the anniversary.

According to Farouk Abu Zeid, dean of mass communications at the Misr University for Science and Technology (MUST), news coverage by Egypt’s media, especially state TV, has long been considered biased.

“Over recent decades, state TV has been one-sided in its coverage of current events. Local TV coverage has been far from impartial, and the tendency has been to emphasise stability and security and not present opposing views,” he said.

“There is nothing wrong with the media supporting the regime, but it must present counter arguments. This would also enable the different media channels to deliver a similar message.”

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), an NGO, criticised the Egyptian media, especially state TV, in a recent report. The report said that the media should do more to contribute to the process of democratic transformation and that media institutions should provide better professional training for their staff.

Some private satellite channels have also been criticised for giving more space to the expression of opinion than the reporting of news.

According to Awatef Abdel-Rahman, a professor at Cairo University’s Department of Mass Communications, the country’s media is in a state of “unprecedented chaos” and is characterised by misleading or incorrect information and incitement.

The local media, whether private or affiliated to the state, does not give people the facts and encourages them to leap to conclusions. “All we hear about now in the media are calls to support the president, the army and the police. The media is polarising the country and agitating people’s emotions,” Abdel-Rahman said.

There is a danger that the media is “dumbing down” the debate and making progress impossible, she said. “Media professionals should be held accountable. They should be responsible for what they do.”

Abdel-Rahman went on to say that the media’s role is to inform, educate, entertain and guide, adding that it also has a social responsibility.

But, as she said, “our media does not inform, educate or guide. It misleads people.”

Abdel-Rahman said that the country’s media laws should be amended, but noted that existing media regulations are not enforced. In the absence of the necessary political, she said the situation is unlikely to improve.

Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), an NGO, said that the media is “like a knife.” It can either be used for cooking or for killing. At present, the media “is a failure,” he said. “Every message on it serves political goals.”

Locally produced TV does not meet professional standards and needs a thorough overhaul, he said. TV stations that broadcast exaggerations, fabricate news or commit other infringements are rarely held to account. Too often, he said, the media celebrates the government’s achievements while ignoring its failures.

Today, Eid said, the freedom of the country’s media is on the line. TV anchors are being pressured to refrain from criticising the government and the media’s sense of mission has largely disappeared.

“As a result, nobody knows whom to trust or to believe,” said Eid.

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