We were, of course, not surprised to see well known Egyptian newspapers and media outlets describe the speeches and stances of President Mohammed Mursi as “historic”, devoting large portions of their coverage to his positions and decisions. After all, he is the first Egyptian president to come to power in an actual election. Mursi began his duties as president by undertaking a great deal of activities, meetings and interviews as soon as he was sworn in, and everyone in Egypt and around the world is interested in following how Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt will pan out. Hence it is natural that journalists and writers are rushing to cover and analyze Mursi’s positions and stances.
However, what we cannot tolerate, for example, is when one of the largest newspapers in the country publishes more than 22 photos and 21 stories about the new president in one single edition. Incidents such as this – clearly an attempt to flatter Mursi - were repeated by more than one newspaper and media outlet, and they evoked memories of how Egyptian state-run newspapers covered the news during the era of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Have we forgotten the headlines such as “Why we love the President”? Or “Millions come out to support Mubarak”?
Today Egypt is taking a new step, and this step inevitably requires a different type of media and press. Of course, it is unfair to say that Egypt lacks independent journalists, but the problem relates to the 55 state-run media publications. Today, a fundamental review is required from the new Egyptian government and the Freedom and Justice Party.
What will the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with the media and the press be like…will there be room for freedom?
However, it is also true that the negative aspects of Mursi’s speeches and activities last week were not overlooked by all writers and journalists. Some strongly warned against trying to create a new “pharaoh” by exaggerating coverage of the president, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF]. Others alleged that this type of media coverage seeks to consecrate a dual ruling authority, consisting of the president and SCAF.
However, what adds further weight to the legitimacy of my original question – about the professionalism of the large and wide state-run media sector – is what happened a few days ago when a candidacy registration period was opened for prospective editors-in-chief of state-run newspapers, supervised by the Shura Council and the Supreme Press Council. With the governing body now adopting election principles, having previously appointed editors-in-chief unilaterally, does this mean that the problem of the state-run press has been solved? Or will these establishments remain captive under the direct subordination of the ruling regime?
Any democratic state is based on the principles of an independent judiciary and a free press, and therefore the media should never be affiliated to anyone. Thus, a review should begin with the system of ownership that governs these newspapers, and how to separate between their ownership and the independence of their operations, which were tarnished by significant corruption during the past era.
Eyes are fixed on Egypt and on the experience of its new ruling regime. The issue of the press is not the biggest test it faces, but failure in this regard would resonate loudly and strongly, in full view of the world.
The writer is a prominent TV journalist and columnist. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on July 6, 2012