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Detention, killing of journalists leads to increased self censorship: NGOs

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On World Press Freedom Day, reports from local and international organisations paint a grim picture of media freedoms in Egypt in 2013

A photojournalists with his mouth tapped holds up his camera as he demonstrates with fellow colleagues in front of the journalist's syndicate in Cairo against repeated attacks on members of the press in Egypt on April 4, 2014.  (AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD KHALED)

A photojournalists with his mouth tapped holds up his camera as he demonstrates with fellow colleagues in front of the journalist’s syndicate in Cairo against repeated attacks on members of the press in Egypt on April 4, 2014.
(AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD KHALED)

Coinciding with World Press Freedom Day, local and international NGOs released reports detailing the violations and challenges faced in the Egyptian media environment.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), said in its first annual report released on Saturday on freedom of expression that seven journalists were killed on the job in Egypt in 2013 alone. However, according Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), going back to 2011, the toll rises to 10, the latest of which is Mayada Ashraf, a 22 year old journalist who died while covering student clashes in March.

Between January and December of last year, AFTE documented 134 violations against journalists. These include confiscation of equipment and injuries caused by live ammunition, birdshot, rubber bullets, teargas canisters, and physical assault. These violations were carried out by security forces, civilians, thugs, and protesters, according to the report.

Last month, two journalists were injured while covering student protests after one was shot in the chest and the other sustained a birdshot injury.

AFTE monitored the cases of 29 arrested journalists throughout the year, with at least 10 remaining behind bars at the time of the release of the report. Figures by CPJ indicate that since July, 65 people have been arrested, and that 17 remain behind bars.

Moreover, the report documented 13 incidents of raids on offices of media organisations.

Watchdog organisation Freedom House has given Egypt the status of “not free”, scoring it 68 out of 100 in a draft report, where the lower the score, the better the rating. This is the highest Egypt has scored on the report since 2009.

In the first half of 2013, Freedom House reported that the media was “extremely polarised along political and ideological lines”. The second half was characterised by “increased self censorship due to intimidation, arbitrary detention, and killings of journalists.”

“After Morsi came to power, state and private media were increasingly driven into adversarial Islamist and non-Islamist camps, to the detriment of journalistic integrity and objectivity,” the report stated.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s newspaper and satellite television channel “both became platforms for the overt promotion of the Morsi government’s policies and rarely offered any criticism of its performance,” Freedom House said in the report. “Conversely, a large number of other private satellite networks that adopted a liberal-secularist ideology, such as ONTV, CBC, Al-Tahrir, Al-Nahar, Al-Balad, and Al-Kahera Wal-Naas, became critical of the Muslim Brotherhood’s conduct, Morsi’s presidency, and Islamist politics in general.”

Under Morsi, the 2012 Constitution protected the media using “contradictory terms”, the report stated. The shift in power to the current regime did not lead to improvement because, although the 2014 Constitution included some “encouraging provisions”, the penal code and press laws have not changed and they include an “array of articles that allow journalists to be prosecuted for their reporting”.

After Morsi’s ouster, the Freedom House draft report states that the military “launched its own systematic crackdown and suppression of media, focusing on outlets that had sided with Morsi or were linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.” In fact, immediately after the announcement of Morsi’s ouster on 3 July, satellite channels that supported Morsi, such as Misr 25, Al-Hafez, Amgad, and Al-Nas, were shut down.

Violations stretched from January to December, AFTE reported.

“The situation did not change with the shift of political power from Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to the current authority, which the military institution plays a large role in directing,” the report’s authors wrote. “Violations in all forms continued which indicates a lack of the needed political will by both authorities to reinforce press and media freedom and to protect them.”

In the first half of 2013, the Administrative Court was full of cases brought against media personnel and television channels for criticising Morsi and his government, AFTE wrote. During the latter half of the year, “violations took a different turn, towards arresting journalists while covering pro-Morsi sit-ins,” AFTE said.

However, the watchdogs seemed to agree that more freedom can be exercised in the internet.

“The internet remains supportive of freedom of expression and a primary criticism tool,” the Arab Network for Human Rights Information wrote in a 255 page report released Saturday detailing the state of press freedom in 14 Arabic countries. It It added that governments have failed to “tame” the internet.

Similarly, Freedom House wrote that “Egypt does not filter internet content” and that “many online activists freely criticize the government and debate contentious issues, although online news outlets are cautious.”

In February, Egypt ranked 159th out of 180 listed countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, a report annually released by Reporters Without Borders. In 2013, Egypt was one of the top ten jailors of journalists in the world, according to the CPJ census of imprisoned journalists. CPJ also ranked the country as the third deadliest country for journalists in 2013.


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