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.


Iraqis fill the Mosul airwaves after Daesh radio silence

Updated 22 June 2018
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Iraqis fill the Mosul airwaves after Daesh radio silence

  • After Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk
  • On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city

MOSUL: During the Daesh group’s rule in Mosul, radio stations were banned and replaced with broadcasts of militant propaganda. Today, young Iraqis are filling the city’s airwaves.
One budding presenter is Nour Tai, who at 16 years old faces the microphone with a confident tone and a professional style.
She hosts a weekly program on One FM, a Mosul station launched in February that broadcasts a mix of music, entertainment and current affairs debates.
Her career began a year ago thanks to a talent show organized by Al-Ghad, a station in the Kurdish city of Irbil which hosted many of those displaced from Iraq’s second city.
She said at the time that she was passionate about radio because “it touches everyone.”
“I want to be part of it,” she said.
She now sits in the One FM studio, accompanied by her father, as a degenerative illness left her blind three years ago.
She says her aim is to “give people hope, especially those who suffer from a handicap.”
“I want to tell everyone that we can all contribute something and that we can realize our dreams,” she says from the cramped studio.
The launch of One FM came six months after Iraqi forces declared victory over Daesh following three years of brutal militant rule in Iraq’s second city.
Daesh had shut down independent radio stations and anyone caught tuning in could expect severe physical punishment.
The emergence of stations such as One FM is a step in the city’s transformation since Daesh was ousted following a vast, months-long operation.
Young presenters are busy 24 hours a day, producing and broadcasting shows which are also filmed for broadcast on the radio’s website and social media accounts.
The channel is run by volunteers who bought the necessary equipment by pooling their savings, some selling their own belongings to fund the station.
Yassir Al-Qaissi, One FM’s head of communications, says their aim is to “denounce violence and extremism, and broaden people’s minds.”
There is a need to “erase the terrorist ideology and end the sickness of our society, such as sectarianism and racism,” the 28-year-old says.
Ahmad Al-Jaffal, 30, says the militant occupation “created a vacuum of thought.”
“With my program, I try to promote ideas of coexistence, of mutual understanding, and of acceptance of the other,” says Jaffal, who worked as a journalist prior to the Daesh takeover in 2014.
One FM is not the only ambitious new station on the local airwaves.
Mosul residents who took refuge in Irbil after the Daesh takeover of their city launched two stations: Al-Ghad and Start FM.
After Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk.
That means it has more radio stations than the two state-run channels it had under former dictator Saddam Hussein.
All currently broadcast analogue signals and can only reach Mosul and its surroundings.
The US invasion in 2003 brought a multitude of new options for listeners, although these were co-opted by American occupying forces or political parties.
The period before the Daesh offensive was risky for journalists and presenters in Mosul, who were regularly targeted by Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
Mohammad Salem, a sociologist, says the new stations will need government supervision to ensure that this time they are not misused for political or religious purposes — “especially as some of their funding sources are unknown.”
On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city.
Taxi driver Mohammad Qassem, 27, says the music and entertainment shows are a welcome addition to his long days.
“We can finally listen to all the songs that IS deprived us of for three years,” he says happily, before pushing the volume up to maximum on his car radio.