2013 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee
(Courtesy of Univision)
To read Youssef’s acceptance speech, click here.
As a window for free expression opened in Egypt with the demise of the Mubarak era in 2011, cardiac surgeon Bassem Youssef began dissecting his society with a satirical newscast produced in his living room and posted on YouTube.
At the time, Youssef’s show criticized the Egyptian government’s institutionalized control over editorial content by showcasing its hypocrisy. YouTube’s “The B+ Show” went viral, earning him a spot on the airwaves as the host of “Al Bernameg” (The Program), a satirical newscast first televised by the independent Egyptian television station ONTV and later by Capital Broadcast Center (CBC). The show had more than 40 million viewers, with at least 3 million more following Youssef on social media channels.
In November 2013, CBC suspended Youssef’s program, “Al Bernameg,” minutes before its scheduled airtime, citing contractual and editorial differences. Youssef and his production company terminated their contract with CBC and said they would pursue legal action. CBC also said it would pursue legal action against the production company.
On his program, Youssef has taken on political conservatives and liberals alike, in a quest to inform and shatter stereotypes. Following a long tradition of satire that blends comedy with hard news, Youssef uses sharp humor to report on and critique government failures to improve the economy, public services, and safety, and its efforts to suppress opinion–whether in the name of religion under Morsi or in the name of security under the current military-backed government. He also addresses controversial topics and the limitations of free speech in a weekly column for independent Egyptian daily Al-Shorouk.
In 2012, the Morsi-led government pursued criminal charges against Youssef for “insulting the president,” “insulting Islam,” and “reporting false news.” In March 2013, an arrest warrant was issued. After voluntarily appearing before prosecutors, Youssef was briefly detained, released on bail, and later fined. The criminal case did nothing to blunt his sarcastic edge. “I will not tone down my criticism,” Youssef told CPJ in June 2013, just days before Morsi was ousted. “Freedom of speech is not a gift, it’s a birthright.”
More than two years after the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, a deeply polarized Egyptian press continues to be battered by an array of repressive tactics, including broad censorship by the new military-backed government, CPJ research shows.