Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Egypt: Efforts to reform state-owned media face obstacles

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Egypt: Media Professionals Calling for the Emancipation of Maspero Investigated

21 February 2012

Press Release

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) are deeply disturbed over the persecution faced by the media professionals who call for the emancipation and the restructure of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (Maspero) to eliminate ongoing corruption in control since the era of the ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.

They also call for the change of the editorial policies which have turned Maspero into an apparatus in the hands of the authorities, expressing a single viewpoint. In addition to that, millions of pounds from the Egyptian people's capital are squandered because of the lack of a standardized and fair statute for the wages, and also the lack of supervision by an independent council on the administrative affairs within the Union.

On 20 February, the legal affairs of Maspero's presiding office summoned three directors of al-Qahira channel; Abdel-Latif Abou-Hmila, Ali Hasanein Abou-Hmila, and Khaled al-Ashry, and the program editor Sayed Said Gom'a, known as Essam Said, for investigation over the protest of 13 February which was organized by a number of Maspero's media professionals within its premises.

The protest demanded the reform of the media, administrative, and financial policies within the various sectors of the Egyptian TV. The protest first began outside "General" Ahmed Anis' office, the Minister of Information, yet received no response. The protesters then decided to escalate their protest to pressure the Minister into meeting them and hearing their demands, so they went up to the second floor where the live broadcast center is.

The military soldiers in charge of securing the building cordoned them to separate the protest from the broadcast center. The officials told them that the Minister had left the building, prompting the protesters to head to the 27th floor where several studios are, among of which Studio 27 which live broadcasts the TV show "Studio 27â-'. They called on the head of the Radio and Television Union to host representatives of them on air in the show and receive a call by the Minister so they could present their demands. After contacting him, the Minister of Information refused.

In fear of the emergence of the protesters' voices during live broadcast, the administration of the TV was prompted to not broadcast the episode on air and broadcast a recorded episode of the same show instead.

It is worth noting that Ehab al-Mergawy, a director of Nile News channel, encountered a similar incidence. He was investigated on 19 February and was suspended from work for tow weeks because of a banner he had held behind the presenter of al-Mash'had show during live broadcasting. Al-Mergawy had "Freedom for Nile News" written on the banner.

These incidents are part of a movement calling for the reform of state-owned media, which started during the Egyptian revolution because of the policies pursued by the official media that made it a major accomplice in the ousted regime's crimes. Maspero's complicity was created through a barrage of lies and fabricated news presented to the public opinion. Hence, the protesters in Tahrir Square were prompted to show solidarity with media professionals' demands related to the purge of the media to turn it into media that seeks public service, not the service of the authorities.

Grave malpractice and moral errors have continued even after the ouster of Mubarak. For example, Maspero presented a biased coverage that incited the public opinion against the Coptic protesters during the Maspero sit-in. During the Ministerial Cabinet events, Maspero also presented an inciting and falsified coverage that adopted the authorities' viewpoint.

In response, staff within Maspero and the media professionals working in its various sectors are currently engaged in a struggle aiming at the change of policies from within through protests and sit-ins. The most famous initiative is the Movement of Nile News Media Professionals, who have escalated their demands calling for the independence of the channel's editorial policy. During the first anniversary of the revolution, they organized a sit-in in front of the Minister's office to pressure for the broadcast of a film called "My Name Is Tahrir Square", which they succeeded in broadcasting it on the Egyptian TV.

ANHRI and AFTE stress on the necessity of the emancipation of the media system owned by the Egyptian state from the control of any power or political authority. Such emancipation will turn the media into a pattern of public service and enable it to develop, entrench freedom of opinion and expression, contribute to the protection of the democratic framework currently being formed in the Egyptian society. Most of the media experts and those concerned about the Egyptian media agree on these principles, which makes us all responsible for supporting the movement calling for the media's emancipation, led by honorable media professionals within the Radio and Television Union.

Thus, the two signatory organizations announce their full solidarity with all Maspero's media professionals who are currently under all forms of intimidation and administrative persecution. In support of the full right to exercise all peaceful forms of expression and protesting within a workplace, ANHRI and AFTE denounce making a scarecrow out of disruption of work, breach of job obligations, squandering of public capital, and storming live broadcast studios.

These scarecrows are used to seize and distort the right to protest and freedom of expression. Therefore, the two organizations call on the civil society, media experts, and the People's Assembly to come together and pressure for a legislation emancipating state-owned media. This legislation should restructure the media so it brings social justice for the staffers of the media institutions and conforms to the standards of professionalism and sober media performance. An independent board of trustees composed of media and societal cadres should supervise the steps to meet the society's needs for a public service to ensure the impartiality and professionalism of the service provided.

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