News You Really Need To See: “Off Camera, Egyptian TV Shaped a New Government”

“Off Camera, Egyptian TV Shaped a New Government”

The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2014, p.A1

The dramatic shift in popular opinion that is expected to lift a former army chief to president of Egypt traces, in part, to an incident outside a TV station last year.  One night last June, long before Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sisi was seen as presidential material here, the news directors of six satellite news channels huddled in an office to discuss growing protests outside by backers of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader elected president after the Arab Spring uprising.  The news directors say they were terrified.  Islamists enraged at the stations’ criticisms of Mr. Morsi had surrounded the office park that housed their TV offices, intimidating reporters who came and went.  The news directors made a decision: From then on, their stations would refer to Muslim Brotherhood supporters as ‘terrorists.’ … The language in broadcasts watched by millions proved a pivot point in Egypt’s circuitous development after the Arab Spring, from nascent democracy to a new embrace of leadership by former generals. … Given their huge power to shape public opinion, Egypt’s news media seem sure to play a decisive role in the success or failure of Mr. Sisi’s presidency, as well.  His luster may already be wearing off.  In a move that revealed deep official disappointment with low turnout in the election Monday and Tuesday, electoral authorities extended the polls to Wednesday.  Pro-Sisi television presenters, including OnTV’s hosts, reacted with rage to the low turnout, accusing the public of being lazy, selfish and even treasonous. … In the nearly yearlong military crackdown on Morsi supporters that followed his July 3, 2013, overthrow by Mr. Sisi, as many as 30,000 Egyptians have been arrested and more than 1,000 killed by security forces in street violence, according to human-rights groups.  These were deaths the Egyptian news channels, by and large, didn’t report.  What the channels did often show was slow-motion video of pro-Morsi protesters carrying small weapons, with the TV outlets sometimes helpfully circling protesters’ handguns or clubs in red.  Last August, in airing footage of police dispersing a pro-Morsi encampment, OnTV set the action to the theme music from the ‘Rocky’ movies.”

Quickie Analysis:  Fascinating, and disturbing, article on the Egyptian media’s Orwellian ability to shape political outcomes.  

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