Media Wars in Egypt: The Revolution Continues With Journalists in the Crosshairs

Upon taking power and unseating the first democratically elected (if not necessarily governing) president, the military immediately shut down several Egyptian and Arab television stations and arrested numerous journalists.
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Upon taking power and unseating the first democratically elected (if not necessarily governing) president, the military immediately shut down several Egyptian and Arab television stations and arrested numerous journalists. Dozens of journalists remain in jail and several stations off-air amid the military's assertion that it was carrying out the will of the people and not in fact executing a coup. It is deeply problematic to make statements about the promotion and assurance of democracy amid a wide ranging crackdown on the media and journalists.

Wednesday night the Al Jazeera English ticker was reporting that another Al Jazeera station had been shuttered even as it was covering the jubilance in Tahrir Square as the millions of Egyptians gathered to demand Morsi's ouster got what they wished for. Al Jazeera Mubashr (the live feed station) was closed within what appears to be minutes of the military's announcement that Mohamed Morsi was no longer president. Apparently the channel was broadcasting Morsi's speech rejecting the military's overthrow. The Arabic channel was also raided and its equipment confiscated.

Staff from both channels were detained, according to the channel, with 25 journalists released shortly after although the managing director and broadcasting engineer remain in detention.

The military also raided several other television stations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was prevented from owning mainstream media outlets under former president Mubarak. Misr25, the MB's news and commentary station, went off air within minutes of General al-Sisi's speech as did the pro-Morsi Al-Hafiz, al-Rahma and Al-Nas stations, all of whose offices in Media Production City were entered by police and at least 35 media personnel arrested. Misr25's live feed to Al Jazeera English and YouTube went black, media reported, not a good start for democracy, which relies on freedom of expression and an informed public.

Gen. Sisi called for the creation of a media charter of honor, though the phrasing sounds ominous and unlikely to indicate his interest in self-regulation. The roadmap he laid out included reference to: "A media charter of honour shall be designed in a way that ensures media freedom; observes professional rules, credibility, and neutrality; and advances the homeland's top interests." I'm pretty sure that arresting journalists and shutting down media outlets does not ensure media freedom... just saying.

The Minister of Communication and IT, reportedly a staunch Ihkwan supporter, resigned two days into the protests along with several other ministers, so it is unclear who if anyone will hold this post. Maybe this time around they will heed the calls of those who say there is no need for any Ministry of Communication, Information, Media, etc.

Prior to the June 30 protests, Morsi's government had apparently also cracked down on the media, accusing journalists of disseminating false news, cutting the broadcast of Egypt Today and generally running rampant over the state media at Maspero (which employs at least 30,000 people), and sending letters to private satellite TV stations warning them to remain 'objective.' Foreign journalists were also intimidated and harassed while covering the protests.

The press is a fundamental component of democracy and without the free flow of information and freedom of speech there can be no true exchange of ideas nor consolidation of the revolution.

Freedom of expression and press freedom are essential to build democratic societies and hence this right is guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory. Article 19 states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Egypt's military leaders are not only abrogating the rights of Egyptians to freely express and inform themselves by shuttering the media and detaining journalists, they are tampering with the building blocks of democracy.

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