Egypt: Gov. uses pro-regime TV anchors to wage war on journalism, RSF report

The Egyptian government uses pro-regime TV presenters and media to undertake smear campaigns against critical journalists, states a new RSF report.

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) organization says in a report that the al-Sisi regime uses pro-government TV anchors and state-controlled media in launching smear campaigns against journalists that are critical of the regime.

“The Egyptian government uses leading pro-government TV anchors and state-controlled media to launch and then amplify smear campaigns against the few journalists still critical of the government,” according to a new RSF report.

The report, entitled “President Sisi’s puppets,” shows how the regime-led media’s smear campaigns against journalists “have taken on a whole new dimension since General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over [as president] in 2013.”

The media—particularly star presenters on popular TV channels owned by Egypt’s intelligence agencies—consistently attack independent journalists’ integrity and reputation using terms such as “traitors to the nation,” “agents of chaos,” “foreign agents,” “terrorists,” and “sexual deviants.”

The result for such journalists, RSF says, is to “create an unbearable climate and force them to adopt a low profile because they fear they could be jailed at any time.”

These attacks are just one element of the state’s all-out assault on independent media. On June 28, for instance, freelance photographer Alia Awad was sentenced to 15 years in prison for filming protesters.

Several voices have demanded that the repressive media climate be addressed in al-Sisi’s upcoming national dialogue.

The fact that several opposition figures have been blacklisted from intelligence-linked outlets in the run-up to the dialogue, however, does not bode well for the regime’s openness to change.

In its report titled: “Sisi’s puppets – TV presenters used to wage war on journalism”, RSF called on the Egyptian authorities to comply with their international obligations and to:

  1. Release the 24 journalists currently detained arbitrarily in Egypt, especially the 10 journalists named in a decision issued in May 2021 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention con- firming that their detention was arbitrary. The 24 journalists are listed in an appendix to this report.
  2. Guarantee the safety of journalists and, to this end, put a stop to verbal attacks and intimidation by government officials, to online defamation and smear campaigns (in particular those of trolls paid by the authorities) and to arrests and prosecutions of journalists for the sole reason that they are practicing their profession freely and independently.
  3. Respect the independence of journalists and, to this end, stop using compliant journalists as the mouthpieces and instruments of hate and smear campaigns against independent journalists.
  4. Respect journalistic freedom and, in particular, amend the 2015 terrorism law, which requires journalists to use the state’s official version of events when covering acts of terrorism and makes it possible for journalists whose reporting does not conform strictly to the official version to be charged, on national security grounds, with “belonging to a terrorist group” or “spreading false information,” and to block news websites on the same grounds.
  5. Stop censoring independent news websites and, in particular, repeal Section 7 of Law No. 175/2018 on combatting online crime, whose very vague provisions have been used to arbitrarily block many news sites.
  6. End the Ministry of Information’s oversight of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; make the SCMR independent and respect that independence; ensure that the SCMR’s power to restrict freedom of expression and of the press (by such means as administrative sanctions or website blocking) is subject to the strict limitations established by international standards; and broaden the possibility of legal appeals against SCMR decisions, including on the grounds of abuse of authority.
  7. Strip the SCMR of its power to determine the code of journalistic ethics and to punish failure to respect that code. This role can only be taken on by an independent body composed of journalists.
  8. End the state’s stranglehold on the media, guarantee its independence (including that of state-owned media outlets) and limit ownership of media outlets by the state or by companies or individuals with ties to the government or intelligence agencies.
  9. Guarantee judicial independence in order for:
  • lawsuits to be successfully brought against those who smear and defame independ- ent journalists or journalists critical of the authorities;
  • the charge of “disseminating false infor- mation” to no longer be used to persecute journalists for the sole reason that they practice journalism freely and independently.