Cairo, 21 February 2012
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) are deeply disturbed by the harassment of media professionals calling for the independence and restructuring of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (Maspero) in order to eliminate ongoing corruption in its control since the ousting of dictator Hosni Mubarak. They are also calling for a change in editorial policies that have turned Maspero into an apparatus in the hands of the authorities, expressing a single viewpoint. In addition to that, millions of pounds from the Egyptian people’s capital are squandered because of the lack of a standardized and fair statute for wages, as well as independent oversight of the union’s administrative affairs.
On 20 February, the legal affairs of Maspero’s presiding office summoned three directors of al-Qahira channel – Abdel-Latif Abou-Hmila, Ali Hasanein Abou-Hmila, and Khaled al-Ashry – and the program editor Sayed Said Gom’a, known as Essam Said, for investigation over the protest of 13 February organized by a number of Maspero’s media professionals within its premises. The protest demanded a reform of the editorial, administrative, and financial policies within various sectors of the Egyptian television. The protest first began outside “General” Ahmed Anis’ office, the Minister of Information, yet received no response. The protesters then decided to escalate their protest to pressure the Minister into meeting them and hearing their demands, so they went up to the second floor where the live broadcast center is. The military soldiers in charge of securing the building cordoned them to separate the protest from the broadcast center. The officials told them that the Minister had left the building, prompting the protesters to head to the 27th floor where several studios are, among of which Studio 27 which live broadcasts the TV show “Studio 27″. They called on the head of the Radio and Television Union to host representatives of them on air in the show and receive a call by the Minister so they could present their demands. After contacting him, the Minister of Information refused. In fear of the emergence of the protesters’ voices during live broadcast, the administration of the TV was prompted to not broadcast the episode on air and broadcast a recorded episode of the same show instead.
Ehab al-Mergawy, a director at Nile News channel, encountered a similar incident. He was investigated on 19 February and was suspended from work for two weeks because of a banner he had held behind the presenter of al-Mash’had show during a live broadcast. Al-Mergawy’s banner read “Freedom for Nile News.”
In other incidents, Maspero presented biased coverage inciting public opinion against the Coptic protesters during the Maspero sit-in. During the Ministerial Cabinet events, Maspero also presented inciting and falsified coverage that adopted the authorities’ viewpoint. In response, staff within Maspero and the media professionals working in its various sectors engaged in a struggle aimed at changing the editorial policies through protests and sit-ins. The most famous initiative is the Movement of Nile News Media Professionals, which calls for the channel’s editorial independence. During the first anniversary of the revolution, they organized a sit-in in front of the minister’s office to pressure for the broadcast of a film called “My Name Is Tahrir Square”, which they succeeded in broadcasting on Egyptian TV.
These incidents are part of a movement calling for the reform of state-owned media, which started during the Egyptian revolution due to the latter’s complicity in the crimes of the ousted regime. Maspero’s complicity was created through a barrage of lies and fabricated news presented to the public opinion. Hence, the protesters in Tahrir Square were prompted to show solidarity with media professionals’ demands related to the purge of the media to turn it into media that seeks to serve the public, and not the authorities.
ANHRI and AFTE stress the necessity of the independence of the state-owned media from the whim and control of any power or political authority. Such independence will turn the media into a channel of public service and enable it to develop, entrench freedom of opinion and expression and contribute to the protection of the democratic framework currently being formed in Egyptian society. Most of the media experts and those concerned about the Egyptian media agree on these principles, which make us all responsible for supporting the movement calling for the media’s independence, led by honorable media professionals within the Radio and Television Union.
Thus, the two signatory organizations announce their full solidarity with all Maspero’s media professionals who are currently suffering all forms of intimidation and administrative persecution. In support of the full right to exercise all peaceful forms of expression and protesting within a workplace, ANHRI and AFTE denounce over-emphasizing the disruption of work, breach of job obligations, squandering of public capital, and the storming live broadcast studios. The emphasis on these aspects is used to distort the right to protest and freedom of expression. Therefore, the two organizations call on civil society, media experts, and the People’s Assembly to lobby for the independence of state-owned media. This legislation should restructure the media so that it brings social justice to the staffers of the media institutions and conforms to the standards of professionalism and sober media performance. An independent board of trustees composed of media and societal cadres should supervise the steps to meet the society’s needs for a public service and to ensure the impartiality and professionalism of the service provided.