Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Cairo's Angry Gaze Falls on Media Coverage ; Foreign Journalists Don't See Big Picture, Government Asserts

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Cairo's Angry Gaze Falls on Media Coverage ; Foreign Journalists Don't See Big Picture, Government Asserts

Article excerpt

Senior government officials have publicly scolded Western correspondents in Egypt for failing to portray the crackdown in the new government's terms: as a war against violent terrorists.

Amid an international outcry over a bloody crackdown, the new government named by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi is putting concerted pressure on the only remaining news outlets in Egypt covering criticism of the violence: the foreign news media.

The military had already shut down all the Egyptian television networks that supported President Mohamed Morsi on the night the general ousted him. Now, in the last four days, the new authorities have raided and shut down the offices of the pan-Arab Al Jazeera network, taken steps to deny its Egyptian license and, on Sunday, arrested its correspondent Abdullah El-Shamy on charges of inciting murder and sectarian violence. Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, was the only big Arabic-language network considered sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Senior government officials, meanwhile, publicly scolded Western correspondents in two news conferences and a public statement for failing to portray the crackdown in the government's terms: as a war against violent terrorists. On Sunday, even General Sisi joined the chorus, criticizing the foreign news media for failing to appreciate his mandate to fight terrorism. The criticisms echoed incessantly through the state and private media, and, in an apparent response, vigilante supporters of General Sisi have attacked or detained at least a dozen foreign journalists, a vast majority on the same day that an adviser to the president delivered the first diatribe against Western news coverage.

"One could be forgiven for saying that there is a coordinated campaign against the foreign journalists," Matt Bradley, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, said Sunday in an interview with Al Jazeera's English-language sister network. He described being pulled into an armored personnel carrier by soldiers rescuing him after a mob tackled him, tore at his clothes and took his notebook.

Coming at the end of a week when security forces killed more than 1,000 Morsi supporters in the streets, the push to control how the news media portray the violence is the latest sign of the government's authoritarian turn, which its officials have sought to justify as emergency measures to save Egypt from a coordinated campaign of violence by the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Scholars and human rights activists say they see signs of broad coordination between Egypt's state and private media to drive home the same messages. After the first mass shooting following the military takeover killed more than 60 Morsi supporters at a sit-in, for example, television talk shows across the state and private media seemed to suggest that the Islamists might have deliberately provoked the violence to tarnish the military. Later, all seemed to discover that even Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain had argued for limiting human rights in the interest of protecting national security.

"There is very clear coordination," said Heba Morayef, a researcher in Egypt for Human Rights Watch. "Forgetting what is true or not, it is interesting that you hear the same thing from everybody."

Prominent human rights activists whose criticism of the former government made them a staple of Egypt's nightly talk shows for the last two years say invitations have dried up as they have continued to criticize the police's disproportionate violence since General Sisi's takeover on July 3.

The scholars say the sudden pro-government unanimity of the Egyptian news media, following the cacophonous explosion of news media freedom after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak two years ago, is a throwback not just to the Mubarak era but also much further -- to the pre-satellite era when the government ran all Egyptian media. …

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