Global Journalist

Egyptian Media Grow Bolder Post-Mubarak Revolution, But…

Egyptian media have undergone a shift since the Jan. 25 revolution, but the dust has yet to settle on changes affecting press freedom or quality of news coverage domestically and regionally in the Middle East.

A striking difference from the days when ousted-President Hosni Mubarak ruled for almost 30 years is that previously timid government-run media have taken to criticizing him, his regime, his family and his cronies and have been calling for reforms.

TV talk show host Emad Eddine Adib, who rose to fame during Mubarak’s tenure, told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat: “We’re a defeated generation. Fear made us speak half-truths.”

It’s a remarkable admission by a renowned figure who had been complacent about the regime’s crackdowns on the media, notably independent news outlets, bloggers and dissidents.

His brother Amr Adib, another talk show celebrity tagged a Mubarak loyalist, was chased out of Cairo’s Tahrir Square by demonstrators at the height of the unrest during what was dubbed the Facebook and Twitter revolution.

But journalist/activist/blogger Mohamed El Dahshan who was in the square, whose mobile phone was bashed by security officers and who was manhandled and jailed briefly, begs to differ.

It wasn’t so much a Facebook revolution as a confluence of circumstances leading to an uprising, facilitated by digital tools and social media.

“Half the people I demonstrated with had probably never used a computer,” El Dahshan said. “But everyone has a phone.”

Those present invariably became citizen journalists and disseminated news, pictures, video clips, text messages and conversations to others.

News was relayed to traditional, alternative and social media for the world to see, hear and view.

However, state-run media failed miserably in reporting accurate information and were lambasted by all, including their own employees—some went as far as resigning in protest.

Those media have since done an about-face and serious soul-searching.

“We misread the revolution,” admitted Abdel Moneim Said, a Mubarak appointee and CEO of the leading state-run daily Al Ahram, adding that national (government) papers should be more professional.

But critics, including his own reporters, found Said’s mea culpa insufficient, and have demanded he and the editor-in-chief be axed.

Their tweets on the subject have gone viral.

Another famous media figure distancing himself from the Mubarak clique is ousted Journalists Union president Makram Mohammad Ahmad.

He blamed Mubarak’s wife Suzanne and son Gamal for triggering the people’s anger through abuse of power, cronyism and corruption, saying he had warned officials about such actions.

El Dahshan said Ahmad “seems to be joining the ‘redeem yourself’ bandwagon” but that his known closeness to Mubarak leaves him hopelessly discredited.

Veteran Egyptian journalist Samir Karam thinks such revisionist cries are too little, too late.

The last time Ahmed was elected to head the union, he campaigned on claims he could obtain benefits for his members because of his ties to the regime, Karam said. “In fact, he failed to get any for more than two years.”

Although journalists enjoy a greater margin of post-revolution press freedom, the caretaker government is still scaring people by issuing decrees criminalizing strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins.

Blogger Arabawy reported March 24 that military police had stormed Cairo University’s campus and suspended a sit-in by mass communication students calling for the impeachment of the president, dean and others affiliated with the Mubarak regime.

“The soldiers used sticks and Tasers, temporarily detaining a number of students and professors,” he said.

It’s too soon to tell how, or if, press freedom benefits from Egypt might influence other Arab countries in light of spreading revolts and each country’s own political, social and economic issues.

But it’s safe to say there will be plenty of fodder for journalists, for a long stretch.

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