The Truth Shall Set You Free…It might piss you off first, but it will set you free.

Reflections on the Egyptian Revolution – The Power of the Media

Posted by politicalmonkey2010 on February 13, 2011

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then a picture and live footage is mightier than a nuclear bomb.  It is one thing to read an article in a newspaper or magazine about an uprising, about people being shot in the street, it is a completely different thing to see it.  In some cases see it live, raw and unedited.  Without a doubt the media coverage of Egypt’s revolution was a major factor.  In all reality it may have very well prevented more bloodshed and more deaths.  I wonder if they had actually managed to get rid of the journalist,  what degree of violence would have ensued?  They were acutely aware that the world was watching.  Perhaps in a rare moment of lucidity the regime, Mubarak in particular realized his legacy was being written, and would not risk another Tiananmen Square moment aired lived to the world.   The regime acknowledged the power of the press  in several ways, first by shutting down the internet and cell phone, then  calling for people to turn off  satellite news, and finally targeting journalist, roughing them up, arresting them.  The power of media, including social media is a threat to any regime who stifles freedom of expression.

Al Jazeera became a household name across the world with their non stop coverage and live internet streaming in English.  Their offices were looted and ransacked, journalist arrested.  There is a history between Al Jazeera and the regime that is not particularly flattering, these two entities have long been battling each other.  Their journalistic credentials have been pulled on numerous occasions.  The US  government has a history of tension with Al Jazeera.   Many Americans got their first exposure to the network after the September 11, 2001, attacks, when it broadcast a taped message from Osama bin Laden, its logo emblazoned in the corner of the screen. The former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once accused it of spreading ”vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” reports about US actions in Iraq.  Al-Jazeera accused the US of intentionally firing missiles at its offices in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2001 and in Baghdad in 2003.  I remember watching Al Jazeera in Arabic during the Hezbollah crisis in Lebanon – at the time I thought these people are like the National Enquirer but on TV.  They would make announcements like 10,000 rockets have been fired into Israel – giving the impression that it had just occurred, when the reality was that over a period of 30 days 10,00o rockets had been fired.  It was spin, it was sensationalism. (Reminds me of a certain right wing group of people in the US..but I digress.)  The bottom line is Al Jazeera has an audience of about 60 million people in the middle east.  The Obama administration realizes this and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, Secretary of State  Clinton and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all have appeared on the network’s Arabic and English channels in the last year. Tony Berman, Al Jazeera’s chief strategic advisor for the Americas, said that multiple meetings with U.S. officials have smoothed the relationship. Clinton had a frank, one-hour discussion with Al Jazeera’s top executives during a visit to Qatar a year ago that seemed to clear the air.  “The cold war that existed between the Bush administration and Al Jazeera has totally ended,” Berman said. “Now it’s a professional relationship between an aggressive government and an aggressive news organization.”

As I flipped like a wild woman between Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, Al Arabia, and state run TV, and internet streaming news, including Fox… I would have to say that CNN and BBC did an outstanding job on their coverage.

What  struck me on CNN –  is the difference between CNN International and CNN USA.  Several times during the past 18 days CNN USA jointly covered the events at times with CNN International it was painfully evident that CNN’s USA staff just did not have an intimate understanding of the geopolitics, or an understanding of the local population.  I did in fact, tune in Fox online, and promptly turned it off when it became clear that they could not find Egypt on a map, and the main talking point was an Islamic uprising.  Fox coverage was an epic fail in journalism.

There are some journalist that really deserve recognition:

CNN’s Ben Wedeman.  Wedeman has lived in Cairo for over 15 years, he is fluent in Arabic, he understands the geopolitics of the middle east and obviously has an intimate understanding of Egypt, it is after all his home.  His commentaries were insightful and accurate.  Hala Gorani, another outstanding journalist for CNN is also fluent in Arabic, and hosts a show called I-Desk, a look at the international news.  Arwa Damon, another journalist who was able to get out into the crowds, talk directly to the people, without using an interpreter, making that personal connection.  Being fluent in the language and culture is vital.  Nic Robertson in Alexandria did an outstanding job.  Anderson Cooper certainly got a taste of the regime’s influence.  BBC  international correspondent Lyse Doucet, again another journalist who understands the culture and the geopolitics  of the region.  She is an award winning journalist for a reason.  The entire CNN and BBC team defined solid journalism and commitment to truth.

State TV – at times I would tune into state tv for more of its comic relief value.  Literally outside their window were crowds of protesters chanting “Mubarak must go!” and they were talking about Nile Cruises, Valley of the Kings or the Great Pyramids of Giza.  When the “news” came on it was absolutely surreal, mind boggling, the distortion, the out right lies.  I was absolutely fascinated, mesmerized and had to applaud what I could only think of in terms of theater, because there was absolutely no connection to reality.

But this is par for the course with state media.  The last time Mubarak was in the US, they took it upon themselves to alter reality with the following “adjustments” … here is the picture that appeared in the newspapers and on state TV, where Mr. Mubarak “leads” the group of international heads of state.

Here’s the reality:

When confronted with the evidence, the state offered a simple explanation, that really we were just illustrating that President Mubarak is a respected and revered leader…uh, huh.

Finally, with great relief Shahira Amin, a long time journalist with Nile TV offered her resignation.  She said she was on her way into work, and heard the chanting of the crowds and knew she could not continue to ignore facts.  She offered her resignation and joined the ranks of the protesters.  You can follow her on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/people/Shahira-Amin/520551813

In what I can only term the ultimate in irony, on Thursday when the world was anticipating Mubarak to step down, the Minister of Information, kept issuing the statement that Mubarak is not stepping down.  This was an institution that had absolutely no credibility, and the one time they were right, being truthful,  nobody paid any attention.

On Friday, just hours before Mubarak resigned, thousands chanted in front of the heavily guarded state TV building, preventing employees from entering. “The liars are here, where is Al-Jazeera?” some chanted, showing their preference for the satellite TV channel.  On Thursday reporters and editors at Al-Ahram demanded that the editor-in-chief be fired over the negative coverage of the protests. They demanded the newspaper run a front-page apology for what Hanan Haggag, a senior editor, called the “very unethical coverage.”  On Saturday, after Mubarak’s resignation, state TV issued a statement carried by Egypt’s Middle East News Agency, “congratulating the Egyptian people for their pure great revolution, lead by the best of the Egyptian youth.”  “Egyptian TV will be honest in carrying its message,” the statement said. “Egyptian TV is owned by the people of Egypt and will be in their service.”

Finally, you cannot deny the impact of social media on this Revolution.  Launched on Facebook, Tweeted across the world has forever changed the face of Egypt.  Even with turning off the access to the internet, it was too late.  The morning after the internet and cell phones were shut down I was having a cup of coffee on my balcony wondering what the day would bring when I heard  yelling “Ya Ahmed, yella! (Ahmed, let’s go).  I looked down and saw two young men wrapped in Egyptian flags calling to my neighbor, ready to go down to Tahrir Square.  My eyes welled with tears, and  I prayed,  I  prayed for the safety of my neighbor, his friends, and for the Egyptians that took to the streets in pursuit of liberty.


One Response to “Reflections on the Egyptian Revolution – The Power of the Media”

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