Media crackdown precedes Egypt’s poll

Regulation & Policy

Media crackdown precedes Egypt’s poll – a ’scripted play’ and an opportunity to mobilize?
By Demdigest on October 19, 2010

Demdigest reported on 19 October 2010 that the Egyptian government is targeting independent media, civil society and opposition groups in the run-up to next month’s legislative elections

Wael Nawara, secretary general of the al-Ghad Party told a meeting at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace the poll is ”a scripted play” in which the regime “chooses both the government and the opposition,” said Nawara. But more than 5,000 incidents of social unrest since 2005 are evidence of the vibrancy of civil society and the unsustainability of the status quo.

The recent dismissal of Ibrahim Issa, editor of the opposition newspaper Al Dustour and the mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood activists demonstrates that freedoms of expression and association are being curtailed in the run-up to the election, said Michelle Dunne, a senior associate at Carnegie and editor of the online Arab Reform Bulletin. Issa’s colleagues today took strike action to demand his reinstatement. He was sacked shortly after penning a notably prescient editorial.

“It’s impossible for the Egyptian regime to give up election rigging,” he wrote. “So the solution it has devised is that instead of putting a stop to rigging, it will put a stop to the talk about rigging. Hence the steps to rein in the satellite media; up next are newspapers. Perhaps soon we’ll see urgent legislation to snuff out Egyptians’ freedom of expression on the internet. And several understandings will be arrived at with representatives of the western media in Egypt.”

The authorities have since introduced new regulations restricting independent broadcasters’ television coverage of next month’s election. “It means we will not be able to do any work from the street,” said Nader Gohar, the owner of Cairo News Company. The state telecoms regulator has banned satellite broadcast from offering live feeds to private TV channels. And the state-owned Nilesat suspended 12 satellite TV channels, allegedly for promoting religious sectarianism, violence and quack medical cures.

“Imposing these ‘regulations’ now ahead of parliament and presidential elections strongly indicates the state’s intention to prevent any broadcasting of political dissent or violations against voters,” said publisher Hisham Kassem, a recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award.

With domestic media outlets neutralized, many will look to foreign media to fill the gap. “Although it can never be a sustainable alternative to good quality domestic reporting, international press reports can serve as a vital enabler to local media outlets,” notes one observer. “In the past, some newspapers and TV shows have been able to skirt around local restrictions that were hindering publication of a certain story by reporting instead on the reports of foreign correspondents, who face less constraints going about their work.”