An Egyptian general walks through protests in Tahrir Square. (AP)
An Egyptian general walks through protests in Tahrir Square. (AP)

Egyptian media say foreign journalists have ‘hidden agenda’

New York, February 5, 2011–As journalists face ongoing attacks and detentions in Cairo, they are increasingly concerned that state broadcasts are creating an atmosphere that is encouraging violence against the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. State television and radio, along with pro-Mubarak private stations, are giving frequent airtime to presenters and guests who claim that foreigners, including international journalists, have a “hidden agenda” against the government, according to CPJ research. Local journalists have been called “infidels” for working with international media while Al-Jazeera has been accused of “inciting the people.” 

“While officials in the Mubarak government publicly pledge to uphold the rights of journalists, state media are blaming the press for the unrest,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “In the current climate, such rhetoric is extremely dangerous, as it could be interpreted as a green light to violent forces that have engaged in a systematic campaign to intimidate journalists.”

Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information told CPJ that there have been “numerous instances of provocation against foreigners, including journalists, on state-run media.” He added that scores of journalists have relayed their fears to him as a result of the state broadcasts. Thierry Thuillier, head of news at French public broadcaster France Televisions, said: “Egyptian state television has referred to foreign journalists as being responsible for what is happening,” Sky News reported.

Egyptians monitoring the broadcasts both inside and outside the country sent CPJ descriptions of what they were watching and transcribed quotes:

Sayyid Ali and Hanaa al-Simari, hosts of a program called “48 Hours” on Al-Mihwar, which is owned by a pro-Mubarak businessman, accused international media–Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya in particular–of having a hidden agenda and falsifying facts in order to provoke and inflame demonstrators against the state and the president, multiple sources in Egypt told CPJ. The two also accused the BBC Arabic service of having a similar agenda. The same show has repeatedly aired a screenshot of Al-Jazeera’s hacked website, which showed a banner advertisement that was taken over and replaced with the slogan “Together for the collapse of Egypt” as proof of a conspiracy. 

Ashraf Sadeq, a journalist working for the semi-official Al-Ahram daily, said on Egyptian TV’s Channel One and the Egyptian Satellite Channel, both operated by the government, that “Al-Jazeera is inciting the citizens.” He added that “at least eight individuals who don’t look Egyptian are wearing army uniforms and are inciting the people” in accordance with “a plot by the West and the United States.”

On Monday, Amr Kamal, a journalist for Al-Akhbar, another semi-official government daily, said on the morning show “Good Morning Egypt,” which airs on Channel One and the Egyptian Satellite Channel, that any individual who cooperates with independent Egyptian stations or foreign satellite stations “is a traitor and an infidel.” Numerous reporters in Cairo told CPJ that the mobs who attacked them repeated these and similar claims during the assaults.

In the last 24 hours, CPJ documented two anti-press assaults, 10 detentions, one attack on a newsroom, and two confiscations of material or equipment. In all, CPJ has documented at least 114 direct attacks on journalists and news facilities this week, and it’s investigating numerous other reports.

Here is a roundup of new attacks on the press:

  • Al-Jazeera tweeted today that Egyptian authorities have released Cairo Bureau Chief Abdel Fatah Fayed and another journalist, Mohamed Fawi. Fawi works for Al-Jazeera Business News in Doha and was arrested while on vacation in Egypt. CPJ was unable to determine whether Ahmad Youssif, who was reportedly arrested with Fatah Fayed, was still being held.
  • Al-Arabiya reported today that men stormed the office of Al-Badil online newspaper in Cairo.
  • On January 28, police attacked Dana Smillie, a photographer working for Polaris Images. “A police vehicle with a shooter in the turret turned and drove up in our direction,” Smillie told CPJ in an e-mail. She was shot in her right thigh. “I pulled one metallic looking BB gun sized pellet out of my shirt. I had about a dozen wounds on my head, back, and buttocks,” she wrote.
  • On Sunday, Egyptian soldiers beat James Hider, Middle East correspondent for The Times of London, at gunpoint, his sister, Claire Hider, told CPJ in an e-mail.
  • On February 4, Micah Garen, a photographer and documentary filmmaker, was detained by the military in Zamalek, in Cairo. “They started searching our stuff, and they became very angry when I told them I was a journalist. They looked at my pictures (of people in Tahrir) and said the photographs were illegal. They then took me and two Egyptians I was with to their commander on the other side of the bridge. When I told the commander I was an American, he stared at me coldly and said, ‘Wake up.’ He then took the flash card from my camera (after I had deleted the images), told me I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of demonstrations, and let us go. The whole incident lasted about 30 minutes. We were left having to walk a half hour in the dark to our hotel since there were no taxis and only more checkpoints,” Garen told CPJ in an e-mail.
  • Wissam Charaf, French reporter of Lebanese origin working for Franco-German TV network Arte, was briefly detained on Thursday, according to news reports. His passport was confiscated along with his mobile phone and tapes.
  • Carole Kerbage, a reporter for the Lebanese Al-Safir daily, was detained today, Al-Safir Shabab tweeted.
  • Hamish McDonald, senior foreign correspondent and presenter for Ten Network Australia, tweeted that he was detained briefly on Friday and released.
  • Osama Abdel Aziz, a journalist working for Al-Jazeera, was released today, the Qatar-based station reported. Abdel Aziz was arrested on January 31 at Cairo’s airport, according to news reports.
  • Lindsey Hilsum, a Channel 4 News international editor, tweeted that she saw journalists being detained today. “Checkpoint on road fm Alex to Cairo collecting journalists–we’ve bn here nearly an hour,” she wrote.
  • Mazhar Abbas, director of news for private Pakistani TV channel ARY News, told CPJ in an e-mail that a crew in Cairo has faced numerous hurdles in their reporting since they arrived on Thursday. Abbas said officials have seized their equipment and that they have been chased and threatened.
  • Freelance journalist Theodore May tweeted that he was “released after an hour+ detention by the military for filming with a Flip cam in Tahrir” and that officers forced him to delete his material.