Through a different lens: State TV versus Al Jazeera

Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Jazeera coverage

They might aswell have been in alternate universes.

Capturing state media coverage of the protests to the images brodcast by foreign media left many viewers bewildered. They were likely to see the pre- senter on state TV looking anxiously into the cam- era lens, at footage depicted a scene of serenity in downtown Cairo.

Reading off mundane news, the presenter does not so much as hint at the protests unfolding a few blocks away, their deafening chants unheard.

Switching to one of the satellite news channels makes Egypt seem like a different place.

Images of millions pouring into Tahrir Square, battling riot police for territorial dominance, and yelling to the viewers how “Mubarak must go!” received unprecedented coverage from the international media.

State TV

Viewers noticed stark differences between foreign media and local state TV coverage of events

An influx of correspondents flooded the hotels of downtown Cairo. Several broadcasters, including CNN and Al Jazeera, dedicated most of the day’s worth of news reporting to the situation in Egypt. Nader Gohar, founder of Cairo News Company, one of Egypt’s primary satellite service providers, said the state TV’s coverage was politicized.

“[State] media stations think that because the government gives them a budget, then the media belongs to them, and they forget their duty to represent the people,” he said.

Former Vice-President Omar Suleiman encour- aged Egyptian viewers to “switch off the satellite TV stations and watch State TV,” hinting that inter- national journalists have “hidden agendas.” Sulei- man accused them of “promoting chaos” and “in- citing the public.”

What followed was an all-out witch-hunt against foreign journalists, and a hate campaign against Al Jazeera, whose bureau was raided and shut down one day before Suleiman’s statements.

Al Jazeera English online producer Evan Hill said he faced difficulty reporting, but not as much as some of his peers, many of whom were detained.

“As someone who didn’t appear Egyptian, I was easily singled out for unwanted attention on the streets. Typical angry questions included: Why are you filming this? Where are you from? and typical statements included: ‘You shouldn’t be here’,” said Hill.

Many journalists, including those from Italy the Times, BBC and the Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir, were detained and physically abused, while others had their equipment confiscated. Throughout these events, State TV remained restricted to a pro- government stance.

Omar El Adl, a political science junior, described State TV’s reporting as “delusional, and a completely unrealistic distortion of facts.” He em- phasized that the million-people marches in Tahrir, an area close to the TV and Radio Building, went unreported by the government-owned channels, which instead covered the protests in Lebanon.

“Rather than calling them pro-Mubarak, they would call the protestors pro-stability,” El Adl said.

He gave an example of how State TV distorted reality for political ends. He also added that their coverage framed the situation as that of a people that had to make a choice between freedom and security.

“It’s their strategy to divide and scare the people,” he said.

Hill said this divide in opinion was evident in how people reacted to media within, and outside of Tahrir square.

“Egyptians interested in reforming their political system, particularly those in Tahrir Square, told me that they only trusted international media, and that state media had lost all credibility. They loved Al Jazeera, in particular. Those outside Tahrir Square expressed more ambivalent opinions,” he said.

State TV channels infamously reported that Tahrir protestors were bribed with KFC meals, Pepsi bottles, and beds, a claim that was reiterated by anti-government protesters in reference to Mubarak supporters.

After Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, state-controlled media went through a complete 180-degree turn. In the past days, State TV channels have been calling the event a “beautiful revolution,” and exposing many of the politicians it once used its airtime to defend.

For now, as political governance remains in transition, it is yet unclear how free the media will be in the next stage of Egypt’s reality. With the rev- olution destroying the government’s hold on media, this may become a first step towards freedom of press.

As for El Adl, he asks whether the revolution will have its own impact on the AUC administration.

“Perhaps these changes in Egypt that allow for political freedom and free speech will reflect in the university policies of AUC.”