Mostly Harmless

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Egyptian state television: beyond reform?

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On October 9, 2011 clashes between protestors and the military near the Maspero building left 36 people dead, 25 of which were Coptic protestors. The protest was against the tearing down of a church in Aswan and discrimination against Copts in general.

The Maspero building near which the clashes took place is the state television building. State TV’s coverage of Sunday’s events has come under severe criticism from many newspapers, other TV channels, activists and politicians. This post will attempt to offer a detailed analysis of State TV’s coverage of the Maspero events.

Egyptian Channel 1 coverage of the events started with anchor Rasha Magdi introducing the topic with a plea to the Egyptian people to remember the victory of their army in 1973 (the clashes took place three days after the 38th anniversary of the October 1973 war) and to protect their army.

A clip of Magdi can be seen here:

Magdi claimed that three military personnel had been killed and 30 injured in the clashes but provided no sources to back either fact up other than “reports”. These claims have not been verified to date and state TV itself later reported that there were no deaths within the military’s forces.

She went on to claim they were and injured by groups of armed Copt protestors, a claim that was by the testimonies (click to read in English and Arabic) of several activists and journalists on the ground, live footage showing the protestors were unarmed and that the army had instigated the clashes.

Videos of the military attacking first can be seen here:

Channel one later ran a report showing a soldiers calling Copts “sons of bitches”:

The next day several news outlets criticized state TV and Magdi for the coverage. Magdi phoned in several talk shows and admitted there were mistakes in the coverage and that it was one-sided. She also said “an important” official” was responsible for the news headlines that day before backtracking and claiming that everything she said she had read from MENA wire copy.

MENA vice president refuted these claims and said his agency had not written or distributed any of the material Magdi read out:

The public backlash was not just against State TV’s bias and unprofessionalism, with several people claiming the coverage was also discriminatory and incited hatred towards Copts. There were calls for Minister of Information Osama Heikal’s resignation. Heikal dismissed the notion and even claimed he saw nothing wrong with the coverage.

Heikal was originally hired with the mandate of reforming state-owned media.

In an interview (in Arabic) with Rosa Al Yousef magazine (also state-owned) Heikal said that he did not view the coverage as discriminatory and claimed that the inaccurate reporting was a result of the chaotic situation and the inability to send reporters into the scene.

The clashes took place, literally, on the doorsteps State TV headquarters, however.

Heikal also said he viewed nothing wrong with Magdi’s biased tone. He said that in “the face of the nation’s destruction” objectivity was impossible.

The cabinet has formed a media committee to verify whether State TV’s coverage of the Maspero clashes was biased or discriminatory but it is unlikely to find State TV guilty with members of the country’s ruling military council going on record and saying that State TV played a “heroic role” in Maspero’s events by their “truthful” coverage.

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Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

October 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Media

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