Inside Story

Egypt: Are foreign journalists lying?

We examine the accusations of bias and lack of objectivity against international media over coverage of recent events.

Foreign journalists are under attack in Egypt – they are accused of bias and of ignoring facts, and many of them have been detained, attacked and some even killed. 

Egypt’s State Information Service released a statement to journalists on Saturday, detailing what it sees as media bias.

“Media coverage has steered away from objectivity and neutrality” which has led to “a distorted image that is very far from the facts,” the statement said.

It went on to say “Egypt is feeling severe bitterness towards some western media coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood and ignores shedding light on violent and terror acts that are perpetrated by this group.”

So far over the last two years there hasn't been a real progress in terms of reforming the legal environment and the operational environment for the media in Egypt...

by Sherif Mansour, Middle east and North Africa programme co-ordinator for CPJ

The criticism of the foreign press has coincided with an increase in attacks on journalists in Cairo. A number have been either threatened or detained by the security services or groups of men in the last few days.

On Sunday August 18, Egypt’s interim government said it would review the legal status of Al Jazeera – because of what it says to be biased coverage of events in Egypt. The government prepared a presentation for foreign media, showing what they say are, armed protesters.

Since the dispersal of the anti-coup sit-ins, interim government officials as well as the Army Chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have portrayed international media channels, including Al Jazeera, as the enemy of Egyptians – even accusing some outlets of out-and-out lying.

The suggestion that the killing of hundreds of protesters on Wednesday August 14 was an excessive use of police force, sparked a wave of criticism by local tv channels against the foreign press.

The effect has created a hostile working environment where journalists have been harassed on the streets and in some cases detained by authorities while trying to report the events on the ground.

But while criticism has been levelled at the foreign press – the government has said nothing about local media coverage.

The local media scene has been dominated by one narrative, while the others are attacked, there are similarities to the Mubarak era when there was no free press to speak of. The military rulers say they are leading the country in a march towards democracy, but it is increasingly starting to look like a giant step back.

So how accurate are the accusations against foreign media of biased coverage of events in Egypt? Or are Egypt’s rulers simply angry at the media for documenting their crackdown against protestors?

To discuss this, Inside Story with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Adel Iskandar, professor of communications and media at Georgetown University, also author of Egypt in flux: Essays on an unfinished revolution; Tom Fenton 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; and Sherif Mansour, Middle east and North Africa programme co-ordinator for the committee to protect journalists (CPJ).

“There have been reports in the western media in recent weeks on the attack on the churches, and there has been [a] mention in the last few days of acts of violence apparently among the protesters.

“But it is such an overwhelming story that the western media is covering, when you have hundreds of dead, when you have mass protests, when you have scenes  [like those] inside the Fateh mosque in Cairo, the story is quite clear. There has been an exaggerated and overwhelming use of force by the government, and no amount of lecturing by press officials, government officials, can cover up the fact.” 

– Tom Fenton,  former senior correspondent for CBS News