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Inside Story

Egypt: An assault on free press?

As the government arrests Al Jazeera journalists, we ask if it signals a greater crackdown against dissenting voices.

Last updated: 01 Jan 2014 13:30
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Al Jazeera is demanding the release of three of its journalists detained by Egyptian police in Cairo.

People were told that foreign journalists were sometimes agents of foreign governments and weren't supportive of the military-backed interim government ... Foreign journalists became targets .... It's become much more difficult for journalists to operate freely and independently on Egypt's streets.

Bernhard Smith, a journalist

The Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy has now been moved to Tora prison, where high-profile political prisoners are held.

Correspondent Peter Greste and Producer Mohamed Baher have also been detained, apparently for broadcasting without permission, although neither have been formally charged.

Cameraman Mohamed Fawzy was also arrested but he has now been released.

The arrests come in the same week that Egypt's interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a 'terrorist organisation', arresting hundreds of its supporters.

Some experts believe that it signals a greater crackdown against any dissenting voices or any criticism of the military-backed government.

A number of other of the network's other employees have also been detained: Twenty-five-year-old Abdullah al-Shami, a correspondent for Al Jazeera Arabic, was arrested in August; and Mohammed Badr, a cameraman for Al Jazeera's Egyptian affiliate Mubasher Misr, was arrested in July 2013. Both men remain in custody.

Since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013, the climate has become increasingly difficult and dangerous for journalists working in Egypt.

Journalists are being blamed for reporting on what is going on in Egypt .... It's really time to let journalists do their job and inform the public, both in Egypt and outside.

Ernest Sagaga, International Federation of Journalists

Majorly after the coup, five television stations seen as supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood were taken off the airwaves. 

In the months that followed, five journalists were killed and 80 others were detained, both Egyptian and international.

Ten media organisations, including Al Jazeera's Egypt affiliate, have been pulled off the air.

Just what is behind this offensive against the media? Is the government targeting Al Jazeera? How difficult is it for a journalist to report from Egypt? Are the media free to report what is happening in the country? And why is the interim government so nervous?

Inside Story presenter Shiulie Gosh is joined by guests: Ernest Sagaga, the head of the Human Rights and Safety Department for the International Federation of Journalists; Tom Fenton, a former senior correspondent for CBS news and author of Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All; Hisham Kassem, a journalist and publisher; and Bernard Smith, who has covered events in Egypt for Al Jazeera English.

"The most difficult time to do your work as a reporter was during the era of Mohamed Morsi where more journalists were charged by the Morsi government than [during] 185 years of Egyptian journalism .... We are back to normal situation now. The media looks slope-sided, but if you look at the state-owned media ... they just support whoever is in power and turn against him ... when he is out ... We are looking at a situation where journalists are caught in the crossfire between two states."

Hisham Kassem, a journalist and publisher

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