One gloomy World Press Day in Egypt – “not much to celebrate” say journalists

SHAFAQNA – In Egypt today, anyone who challenges the authorities’ official narrative, criticizes the government or exposes human rights violations is at risk of being tossed into a jail cell, often to be held indefinitely without charge or trial or face prosecution on trumped-up charges,” Amnesty International said.

Among the issues that Amnesty highlighted were 18 reporters and media workers that had been jailed and dozens more currently facing charges.

The increasing legal attacks on journalists in Egypt drew international protests when three Al Jazeera journalists were arrested and charged with spreading lies about the government. Those three were sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison last year. One, an Australian, has since been deported, while the other two, who hold Egyptian nationality, are being retried.

Also Sunday, which is World Press Freedom day, Visualizing Impact released the first in a series of info graphics on Egypt.

The group, which is based in Lebanon and has gained international attention for its series of graphics Visualizing Palestine, partnered with Mada Masr, an independent media organization, in Cairo to highlight the trend in media censorship over the last two years.

According to the group, eight satellite stations had their licenses revoked and 11 imprisoned over the last two years, while the government has issued 11 gag orders, including a blanket ban on coverage of several trials involving ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Licensing for all media outlets has become more difficult in Egypt under the current regime, with independent online radio station Gramafoon shutting down after new regulations were issued that require all live broadcasts, even online, to be licensed.

Yet one concern remains for the Visualizing Impact team, and that is statistics can only calculate the size of restrictions and limitations exercised by the government and the various authorities on the press. The question remains, what about the influence these restrictions have on editorial boards and journalists? How much has this wave of arrests lead to self-censorship?

While this problem may not be as obvious as those representing authoritative censorship, Visualizing cited at least six renowned journalists who have stop working after rejecting the restrictive conditions that were enforced on them by their employers.

Reem Maged, an ONTV talk-show presenter who has been off air since June 30, 2013, told Al-Shorouk that she had refused to go on when she was conditioned to abide by a “certain formula” on her show in order for it to air.

Maged said “the channel changed its policy from being in the opposition [as was the case under Morsi] into being part of the regime for reasons related to national security and interests.”

On another note, Belal Fadl, a writer for Al-Shorouk newspaper, said via Twitter that “I will look for another paper that doesn’t deceive its readers with slogans about freedom of thought, which is being strangled every day.”

Among the latest cases of arrest that incited great concern is the case of the five Al-Masry Al-Youm journalists who were arrested for their special report on alleged police violations.

Earlier in April, many journalists and photojournalists gathered in front of the syndicate of journalists to protest the 600th day of detention for the 27-year-old Mohamed Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, who was arrested in August 2013 while covering the dispersal of the pro-Morsi Rabaa sit-in.

To date, no charges have been filed against him, nor any legal explanation presented.

In a critical time for Egypt as it struggles to maintain security along its troubled borders, one would assume that stirring more agitation within its borders is the last thing the government needs.

“We are unfortunately falling back into a very dark era,” Wael Kandil, Al-Shorouk paper former managing editor said in an interview to Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr.

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