Media under official scrutiny ahead of Egypt poll

People walk by a poster of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election, in Cairo, Egypt March 1, 2018. The poster reads: "Story of the country will continue with you." (Reuters)
Updated 03 March 2018
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Media under official scrutiny ahead of Egypt poll

CAIRO: Media in Egypt faces increased scrutiny and restrictions by authorities ahead of a presidential election this month incumbent Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will dominate, critics say.
The president, addressing media, warned on Thursday against “defamation” of security forces, a day after his prosecution warned it would take legal action against “false news.”
Egypt ranks 161 out of 180 countries in press freedoms according to watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 Press Freedoms Index.
The government’s warnings to media are not new.
Sissi, a former army chief elected as president in 2014 a year after toppling his Islamist predecessor following mass protests, had previously asked the media to exercise caution in criticizing officials.
But in recent months, authorities have blocked about 500 websites, including media outlets like Al-Jazeera and the local Mada Masr, while journalists have been arrested.
A reporter for the Huffington Post’s Arabic website was detained last month after publishing an interview with prominent dissident Hisham Geneina who mentioned the existence of documents that are damaging to senior state officials.
At least 29 journalists are in detention, according to Reporters Without Borders, including some accused of working for media affiliated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group.
Some of the restrictions are unprecedented.
“Egypt has never seen an (Internet) blockage since the start of the Internet,” said Mohamed Taher, a researcher with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression in Egypt.
Authorities did cut off the Internet for a day in 2011 as they tried to stifle an uprising that ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak, but did not seek to permanently ban scores of websites.
The government has not confirmed or denied its role in the blackout, but Taher said Internet providers do not block websites without a request from authorities.
For some outlets, the measure has impacted their operations. One site, Masr Al-Arabia, had to reduce staff by 60 percent, according to Adel Sabry, an editor.
“Many sources refuse to speak to a blocked website,” he added.
The government has also increased criticism of foreign media, which had been a frequent target of attacks by politicians over the years.
It often accuses foreign journalists of biased coverage of the country, especially when it comes to human rights abuses.
The government’s State Information Service called for an official boycott of the BBC last week after a report on abuses in which a woman claimed her daughter had been forcibly disappeared by security.
The daughter later appeared in an interview on a local television station, saying she had run away, married and had a child. The BBC said it stood by the “integrity” of its reporters.
The report appears to have prompted the prosecution statement saying its lawyers would take action against outlets that publish “false news” and “news and rumors that harm public safety.”
Much of the domestic media is seen as generally pliant, and criticism of Sissi is rare.
“There is no direct instruction or censorship, but (journalists) censor themselves” out of fear or opportunism, said a journalist who works for a large private channel, and requested anonymity.
Rights activists say the authorities have become more restrictive in general, showing little tolerance for dissent.
In the run up to the poll, Sissi’s would be rivals have been sidelined or withdrawn from the race, saying it would not be a fair election.
One of them, former armed forces chief of staff Sami Annan, was detained shortly after announcing his candidacy.
The military accused him of illegally standing in an election while still a registered reserve officer.


Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

Updated 13 December 2018
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Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

  • A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work
  • The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa

Turkey remains the world’s worst offender against press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday, with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges.

Turkey has previously said its crackdown is justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow the government in 2016.

The report said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism.

There were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs as of Dec. 1, the CPJ said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt, where authorities have accused reporters of anti-governmental activities.

“It looks like a trend now,” the report’s author, Elana Beiser, said in an interview. “It looks like the new normal.”

The number of journalists imprisoned on charges of “false news” rose to 28, up from 21 last year and nine in 2016, according to the CPJ, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes press freedom.

The report criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for frequently characterizing negative media coverage as “fake news,” a phrase that is also used by leaders against their critics in countries like the Philippines and Turkey.

In Egypt, at least 25 journalists are in prison. Authorities say this is to limit dissent are directed at militants trying to undermine the state.

Meanwhile, when asked about journalists being jailed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “Legal measures are not taken because of these suspects’ or criminals’ professions. This is unrelated.”

The overall number of jailed journalists is down eight percent from last year’s record high of 272, the CPJ said.

The total does not take into account journalists who have disappeared or are being held by non-state actors. The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa, including several held by Houthis in Yemen.

(With Reuters)