When it comes to reporting or editorialising fast-moving events taking place in Egypt, foreign news media has shredded all pretence of balance. Indeed, in all my long years as a columnist, I have never witnessed such an appalling abandonment of journalistic norms and deliberate skewing of facts. There’s a concerted media assault on the wishes of the millions who took to the streets on June 30 to rid their country of a president leading his country towards economic and social suicide.
Those who came together from all walks of life to rescue the nation were worried individuals convinced that if Mohammad Mursi was permitted to serve out his term, Egypt’s very identity would be irrevocably erased. But rather than portray the celebratory atmosphere enjoyed by the majority, US and British news outlets were quick to label the president’s ousting ‘a coup’ — and have been crying foul ever since.
CNN’s bias in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters gathered in Rabaa Adawiya to demand Mursi’s reinstatement hasn’t been lost on the crowds in Tahrir who believe they’ve pressed the reset button on January 25, 2011. Yet, CNN’s coverage has been overwhelmingly doom and gloom. I can’t count how many times its anchors stress upon Mursi’s status as ‘Egypt’s first democratically-elected president’, neglecting to mention that he forfeited his legitimacy the moment he illegally grabbed sweeping powers, appointed an Islamist-dominated Upper House and attacked the judiciary’s independence.
CNN’s pundits, so-called Middle East experts, have invariably been disposed towards the toppled leader and Brotherhood spokesman Jihad Al Haddad has been given the lion’s share of air-time. A few days ago, almost every CNN hourly news report featured an interview with Mursi’s son, Ahmad, who sent a morale-boosting message to his “Dad”.
And what a patriot he is! When Brotherhood stalwarts suggested he and his brother relinquish their American passports, they refused, citing personal freedom of choice. When an angry mob of Brotherhood supporters, many armed with Molotov cocktails, batons, swords and guns, attempted to storm the Republican Guard HQ resulting in death and injury, CNN’s guests cried massacre.
Strange that CNN avoided that term during the US-led occupation of Iraq. Wasn’t ‘Shock and Awe’ a massacre? Wasn’t the April 2004 siege of Fallujah carried out by US marines leaving over 700 dead, a massacre? The US military is massacring innocent Pakistanis and Afghans with its drone strikes today? Has CNN ever dared to term Israel’s onslaughts on Gaza or Lebanon ‘massacres’? As if to emphasise how dastardly Egypt’s security forces are, the channel has highlighted over and over the devastation of a mother whose son, a Brotherhood-sympathising photographer was shot in the head, allegedly by an army sniper. That’s fair enough! But why haven’t its reporters sought to interview the mothers of Egyptians murdered by Brotherhood thugs or the families of young policemen and soldiers killed?
There have also been instances when CNN has wrongly labelled the massive throngs in Tahrir as those in Rabaa Adawiya, enraging Egyptian viewers, which is why CNN currently declines to name its reporters due to safety concerns.
The BBC’s coverage has similarly been tilted. Hard Talk’s Stephen Sackur blatantly sided with the arguments of an Islamist Turkish author against those of a female Egyptian liberal, announcing that as far as he was concerned it was “a coup” and accusing the clearly intimidated woman of lacking democratic principles.
Without doubt, the worst offender of all is Al Jazeera, a network I’ve consistently championed over the past 12 years in my columns, much to my chagrin. I never imagined that one day it would serve as a propaganda arm of the Brotherhood. Al Jazeera International has been wheeling out Islamists cloaked in the benign guise of visiting professors from the Brookings Institute.
Its senior political analyst Marwan Bishara has shown his true colours predicting the transition “will be a major flop” adding that “those in Tahrir Square got what they wanted but do they want what they will get?”
Al Jazeera’s Egypt channel (Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr) is blatant in its support for the Brotherhood giving no platform whatsoever to the other side. Egyptian authorities attempted to remove it from air, but failed to do so because Al Jazeera allegedly hijacked broadcast vehicles from Egyptian State TV, now protected by the crowds in Rabaa Adawiya.
Local reporters were so incensed they demanded the ejection of Al Jazeera’s senior editor in Egypt from a press conference. Some 22 of Al Jazeera’s employees resigned asserting pro-Islamist bias at the top. On Friday, I was shocked to see someone I recognised on the stage in Rabaa Adawiya, engaged in whipping up the crowds.
There was the host of Al Jazeera’s programme Bela Hodod (Without Frontiers) Ahmad Mansour advising on how to manipulate media coverage and insisting that pictures of June 30 massive anti-Mursi protest had been photoshopped.
June 30’s aftermath has not only thrust the Arab world’s most populated country into uncertainty, it has eroded media credibility and prompted the crossing of a thin red line between honest reporting and political/ideological propaganda. Journalism requires an ethical revolution before Al Jazeera, CNN and others can ever be trusted again.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org