By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: There is no political will to provide easy access to information to journalists and media professionals, a report concluded at a launch Tuesday.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) issued a joint media monitoring report of the coverage during the transitional period and the way it shaped public opinion.
The organizations observed a chosen sample’s coverage of the military council, the judiciary and the political parties and elections over seven months from July 2011 to Jan 2012.
The sample, according to executive director of ANHRI Gamal Eid, included 11 media outlets. State newspapers Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar, partisan paper Al-Wafd and private newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Shorouk were observed along with news websites Al-Ahram portal, Al-Badil, Masrawy and Al-Youm Al-Sabei’.
Researchers also monitored the coverage of Baladna Belmasry talk show on ONTV, Al-Ashera Masa’an on Dream TV and Mobasher Min Misr on state TV.
“We worked on this report to know whether Egyptian media has coped with the changes that came with the revolution or stood still the way it behaved under the toppled regime,” Eid said.
“We found that state media lacks professionalism despite its worldwide reputation,” he added.
When it comes to SCAF’s policies, the report concluded, state media were the main supporters. “They kept defending SCAF even in the policies SCAF itself has abandoned,” Eid said.
Al-Badil, on the other hand, was the main opponent to SCAF’s policies.
“Masrawy only joined the opposition forces after the Maspero clashes [last October] between protesters and SCAF,” he added.
Al-Shorouk and Al-Masry Al-Youm were more balanced in their coverage of SCAF’s performance, he said.
“Baladna Belmasry risked a lot to reach accurate news from different viewpoints,” Eid said.
As for the state TV talk show Mobasher Min Misr, the report said that it gave positive indications and was unexpectedly impartial in its coverage of SCAF.
Al-Ashera Masa’an, however, was inconsistent in its coverage. “It opposed SCAF harshly at times, but at other times it strongly supported its policies,” Eid said.
He added that in the coverage of the judiciary and the controversy between judges and lawyers in talks about amendments to the Judiciary Independence Law, Baladna Bel Masry, Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Shorouk were objective while state media outlets along with Al-Wafd further fueled the controversy.
Ahmed Abdel Hafiz, board member of EOHR, said that the report concluded that during the seven-month monitoring period, the coverage of political parties’ activities and policies was not stable.
“Sometimes they focused on certain parties for a while then neglect them in other occasions,” he said.
However, he said, the coverage of political parties and parliamentary elections was from the viewpoint of the Islamic political stream.
“The policies of liberals and leftists were only seen from where Islamists stand. They were always asked about what they think in regard to what Islamists said,” Abdel Hafiz said. “When Islamists began to assume authority, state media sided with them against others.”
He added that while 86 percent of the coverage can be considered positive, the quantitative measure cannot be isolated from the qualitative one.
“The impartiality of these outlets was only in appearance. They didn’t use adjectives or conclusions in covering the news but the editorial policy of these outlets and what they chose to cover formed a subjective coverage of events,” explained Nafisa El-Sabagh, journalist and key researcher in the report.
Al-Masry Al-Youm for instance, she said, used to highlight the controversial statements of opposing political streams, especially Salafis.
As a female, El-Sabagh criticized the report’s conclusion that women only appeared in 2-4 percent of media coverage.
“Even when ordinary citizens were chosen to give their opinions on a talk show they were usually men,” she said.
El-Sabagh also criticized the media for only monitoring political debates between the various streams instead of emphasizing the logical points in the discussions and trying to reach adequate solutions to controversies.
“Baladna Belmasry was the only talk show that did that particularly while discussing the judiciary issue, but unfortunately it wasn’t adopted by other outlets,” she said.
She added that media only focused on politics and covered economic news from an elitist standpoint without discussing the public’s issues.
“Social issues especially the minorities’ rights weren’t addressed properly in media during the identified period,” she said.
Eid stressed that although the two organizations monitored media coverage, they did not isolate that from the atmosphere in which it emerged.
“The Ministry of Information was once canceled then brought back to compound the confusion.”
El-Sabagh added that sometimes officials speak to media on condition of anonymity to leak rumors to test public opinion.
“The journalist sees this as of utmost importance and publishes it, but without checking its accuracy. But when it is published this same source denies the news and blames the media for publishing it.”