Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cairo News Company Fined

An Egyptian court fined the Cairo News Company (CNC) E£150,000 (US$27,000) for operating equipment without a proper license, although the issue against the company arose after the company distributed footage of protesters tearing down a poster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The owner of the company told Al Jazeera he originally had the proper licenses, but was unable to renew them as the government was reviewing its rules for licensing.

"I see this as stupidity," CNC head Nader Gohar told the AP. "The more freedom they give us, the better the government will look. Now the government's image is very bad."

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Egyptian Internet activist arrested

Egyptian Internet activist and programmer Yousif Al-Ashmawi has been detained in Saudi Arabia for two months without trial or charge in Al Hayer Prison in Riyadh, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Al-Ashmawi was arrested when he was trying to obtain a driving license. Saudi officials may have detained him because they believe his was privy to state secrets while working for the foreign ministry.

"The Legal Aid Unit for the Freedom of Expression has filed official reports with the Egyptian prosecutor general, the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Egypt, the Egyptian embassy in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi foreign ministry. ANHRI has also informed two human rights associations in Saudi Arabia but none of these institutions have taken any interest in the case," according to the ANHRI press release.

ANHRI contends that the Egyptian government is cooperating with the Saudi government because it has ignored the case of Al-Ashmawi.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

50th Anniversary of Murrow's RTNDA speech

Just a break from free press in Egypt to note a day of importance:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow's famous speech at the convention of the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
Murrow believed the media served competing purposes: distraction and illumination. Although television was still a nascent industry, Murrow foreshadowed its looming problem, which I believe has come to its nadir. The lines of entertainment and information have been blurred together, while the sheer amount of information available is overwhelming yet often inaccurate. Knowledge and free thought, once the hallmarks of a liberated society, have become of less consequence than the personal lives miscreant celebrities.
Those who point to the fall of media due to declining revenues would do the profession–and the public– a greater service by observing the capitulation to corporate interest above the need to inform and serve. Yes, journalism is a profession that serves the public. If we can stop gazing at our navels for one minute thinking we are better, smarter, better looking or more deserving than our audience, we could understand how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to engage and inform the citizens of the world.
I do not mean to self-aggrandize; I have accomplished very little in my career and I have more than once taken a copy editing job for a brochure or advertisement. I like to believe I have done so only because of the loans I owe because of my study at Medill and elsewhere, but I know in my heart that had I no debt, but a family to feed, I would likely make the same choice. Survival is the unfortunate consequence of a profession with limited opportunities.
Murrow believed the media was at a critical juncture 50 years ago. One could contend that with the US government illegally using former generals as propaganda tools and $200 million to garner a favorable image in Iraq through local press, the decline of the media has been set on an irrevocable course. And if Tribune VP Lee Abrams' defense of the informative value of advertorials does not reflect the precipitous decline of the institutions of journalism, then I do not know what will.

Excerpts from the speech of Edward R. Murrow before the RTNDA convention, October 15, 1958: (please excuse any errors, as I copy and pasted the text from a website without editing it)
I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard that produces words and pictures. You will forgive me for not telling you that instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.

If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done--and are still doing--to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained and more mature than most of our industry's program planners believe.

Editorials would not be profitable; if they had a cutting edge, they might even offend. It is much easier, much less troublesome, to use the money-making machine of television and radio merely as a conduit through which to channel anything that is not libelous, obscene or defamatory. In that way one has the illusion of power without responsibility.

In this kind of complex and confusing world, you can't tell very much about the why of the news in broadcasts where only three minutes is available for news.

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the corporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this.

There is no suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or the Communications Act which says that they must increase their net profits each year, lest the Republic collapse.

If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide."

But this nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination and faith in the future.

Why should not each of the 20 or 30 big corporations which dominate radio and television decide that they will give up one or two of their regularly scheduled programs each year, turn the time over to the networks and say in effect: "This is a tiny tithe, just a little bit of our profits. On this particular night we aren't going to try to sell cigarettes or automobiles; this is merely a gesture to indicate our belief in the importance of ideas."

We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Journalists fined for doctored photo

A court on Saturday fined an editor and a reporter 80,000 pounds (US$ 14,600) each for publishing a doctored photo of Al Azhar Shiekh Mohammed Sayed Al Tantawi.

A criminal court in Giza ordered that Al Fajr editor Adel Hammouda and writer Mohamed Al Baz on charges that they had defamed Al Tantawi. The court also ordered they pay 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($897) directly to Al Tantawi, who filed a defamation suit.

In the doctored photo, Al Tantawi was wearing a papal robe, following his visit to the Vatican in March 2007.

Hammouda criticized the ruling, saying libel laws in Egypt were being used to stifle the press, according to the AFP.

"They're coming up with ways to restrict journalists. They should annul the laws that allow judges to jail reporters," the opposition paper's editor told AFP after sentencing.

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the sentence in a press release.

"This verdict sends a chilling message to Egyptian journalists that criticism of religious institutions is off-limits," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney, in the release. "Satirical journalism is a vital component of a healthy democracy. We urge the courts to overturn this conviction on appeal."

Tantawi, who is appointed to his position by President Hosni Mubarak, is close to the Egyptian government, which has little tolerance for criticism.

Egyptian law and Islamic custom has little tolerance for insults to Islam. Underlying this ruling, therefore, is that there is something wrong with wearing a Christian robe.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Eissa Exonerated

In a completely unexpected move, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pardoned the two-month sentence for Al Dustor Editor Ibrahim Eissa, according to the AFP. 
Eissa was charged with harming the country after his paper published reports that Mubarak was in ill health. 
Although Eissa obviously welcome his reprieve from jail time, he still criticized freedom of the press in general.  
"The issue is larger than that between one reporter and the president," he told AFP. "The issue is that of Egyptian journalism, which suffers from an arsenal of laws that negate freedoms." 
Much of the press is controlled by the state in Egypt and published media must go through censors. Some journalists take bribes in cash, while lavish gifts and meals are usually expected at press conferences. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Interesting Debate

These videos were on Al Jazeera about political reform in Egypt. It included an interesting debate of an establishment professor with two from the opposition. Although there was a brief mention of press freedom, unfortunately the debate never touched on it.

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