The last 48 hours witnessed what can be described as the most aggressive as well as most organized attack on the media, affecting all media channels in Egypt, both private and governmental. After Morsi finished his speech to the nation, concluding a year since his election as president of the republic, last Wednesday, violations increased significantly against the media. The speech contained explicit sections which can be considered a clear incitement and threat to media, an attitude which the president and his officials have been regularly using during recent weeks. The threats indicate a determined intention by the president and his officials to exercise complete control over the media message during the few remaining hours before the beginning of the nationwide demonstrations scheduled for tomorrow, the 30th of June, to oust the president and his government.
Hours after his speech the public prosecutor ordered the arrest and summoning of anchor Taufik Okasha upon complaints filed against him on the same day, accusing him of disseminating false news which might disturb public safety. In the evening the channel broadcast was cut while the anchor was presenting his program “Egypt Today”.
At the same time Maspero, the state owned media institution, witnessed a major violation, which led anchor and director of the Radio and TV Institute, Gamal el Shaer, to resign on air, at the beginning of his program “Talk to Egypt” (Kallem Misr) when he was informed by the director of the program that the president of the channel wants to terminate the program immediately in view of Maspero’s management objection to the views of his guests, which are opposing to the policies of the president and the ruling party.
It is noteworthy that the situation in Maspero has become totally under the control of the presidency after the presidential counselor for media affairs, Ahmed Abdel Aziz was put in charge of the Radio and TV building, and who turned the building into an operation room run by him personally to ensure full control over the broadcasted news before the 30th of June protests. In this context, testimonies given by Maspero employees to AFTE researchers, confirmed that the presidential consultant and his team are the actual managers of Maspero since the “No to Violence” events last Friday. The operation room controls everything ranging from approving the guest lists ensuring that they do not include any members of the opposition, up to defining the permissible phone interventions, which he himself controls in collaboration with officials in the “control” room and finally the revision of the scripts for the different programs.
The day following the president’s speech, some private channels received a letter from the general investment agency, calling upon them to remain objective, not to cover events in a disrupted way, respect privacy of individuals and institutions and refrain from shaming them, not to broadcast material that is contrary to principles and morality of society and not to advocate violence”. The Agency in its letter confirmed that the execution of the duties of the administrative body in case satellite channels and programs do not abide by the conditions of their contracts and permits, does not depend on providing evidence of breach according to the penal code, but that the management will intervene according to breaches, legal provisions and regulations, be they administrative or breaches of guidelines and principles of media activity, even if they do not amount to a criminal breach as defined by the penal code and the law of criminal procedures.
AFTE considers this letter to be a clear threat to private media channels. It also authorizes the General Agency for Investment and Media Free Zone to define a breach punish channels, and exercise censorship and control over media content, in violation of the basic principles of media freedom, where its diversity and free representation of different views are but some of its hallmarks.
AFTE affirms that this campaign led by Egyptian authorities against private and public media is a violation of article 48 of the Egyptian constitution which forbids the closure, confiscation, or closure of any media outlet without judicial orders. The article also prohibits imposing any censorship or control over media outlets except at times of war and in a state of public mobilization, indicating the president’s and his government’s lack of respect to the constitution, for which they fought a fierce battle against most political groups in the country.
Finally, AFTE demands the abolition of punitive authorities granted to the Agency against media outlets which work within the Media Free Zone according to investment law no. 8/1997, foremost the authority to inspect, block or withdraw permits.