Listening Post

Bassem Youssef - No laughing matter

After comedian is taken to court for insulting Egypt's president, we ask if Morsi is making a mockery of press freedom.

Last Modified: 13 Apr 2013 12:24
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Although it has been more than two years since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s revolution is still very much in motion.

The rise of Mohamed Morsi has given the Muslim Brotherhood the voice it was denied for decades but there are those who see the president edging towards authoritarianism and who fear the creeping Islamisation of Egyptian politics and society.

As the president’s power has grown, so has the volume of critical voices in the media. One of those voices is that of Bassem Youssef whose wildly popular show satirising Egyptian politics has won comparisons with US presenter Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Headline writers in Egypt have been focussing on Youssef's case after he was taken to court for insulting the president, denigrating Islam and undermining security. But the larger story is not about the Morsi government’s definition of what is funny or not; it is about freedom of the media in the post-revolutionary era.

Youssef's satirical programme is back on the air after the judge threw the case out of court. However a message was sent to Egyptian journalists, many of whom say they were already working under siege conditions.

Brotherhood supporters do not see the funny side of such satire. And their outrage at media figures has spilled into the streets. Last month Morsi supporters descended on a media complex in Cairo, trying to control what is said on the airwaves by stopping journalists from getting to their offices and studios. And the president did not appear to have a problem with that.

Two years after the heady days of Tahrir Square, the Egyptian media space has changed drastically from what it was under Mubarak. But the question is: Is the journalism any better, any more free?

Joining us to discuss the media under fire in Egypt for this week’s News Divide: Journalist Hani Shukrallah, who says the Muslim Brotherhood forced him out of the top job at the state-run Ahram Online news website; Nader Omran, Spokesman for Egypt’s Freedom & Justice Party which Mohamed Morsi once led; Reem Abou-El-Fadl from Oxford University; Ashraf Khalil, the author of Liberation Square; and Al Jazeera English correspondent Sherine Tadros.

Our Newsbytes this week: Russian journalist Mikhail Beketov, who was severely beaten in 2007 after alleging corruption, has died at the age of 55; in Bangladesh, a top editor has been arrested and his newspaper raided; the Associated Press news agency draws fire from US conservatives after dropping the term "illegal immigrant" from its stylebook; and Sudan’s press council takes a stand against President Omar al-Bashir over media interference.

Our feature this week takes us to Pakistan: What role do journalists play in a society plagued by deep-rooted problems and riven with divisions? And how do they face the dangers posed by those who answer freedom of expression with the bullet and the bomb? To find out, we focused our cameras on top Geo TV presenter Hamid Mir who himself has been the target of attempts on his life.

Finally, our Video of the Week comes from the Brazilian comedy channel Porta Dos Fundos. It’s a witty critique of journalism of a distinctly yellow tint – a lesson for the rich and famous of why it is best to keep journalists at arm’s length.

Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

Click here for more Listening Post.


Al Jazeera
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