CIHRS Issues its Second Report on Media Performance During the Vote in the 2014 Presidential Elections

In Statements and Reports, Thematic Reportsby CIHRS

4 copyOn June 7, 2014, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights issued its second interim report on media coverage of the vote in the 2014 presidential elections. The report documents and evaluates coverage in 15 print, audio, and visual media outlets in the final three phases of the election: the vote abroad and the declaration of expatriate results, the final hours in the run-up to the vote in Egypt (the last 72 hours of campaigning as well as the two-day campaign moratorium), and finally the vote, the ballot count, and the declaration of results. The final part of the report is devoted to an assessment of the performance of al-Jazeera Egypt in these three phases. Al-Jazeera’s coverage diverged significantly from that of other outlets, marked by distinct features, biases, and violations, and thus deserved a separate analysis.

CIHRS monitors observed nine hours daily on eight television channels (Egyptian Satellite Television, Nile News, ONTV, CBC, al-Qahera wal-Nas, Sada al-Balad, MBC Egypt, and al-Jazeera Egypt) and two radio stations (Radio Egypt and Radio 90:90). It also monitored the daily editions of five newspapers (al-Ahram, al-Gomhouriya, al-Masry al-Youm, al-Shorouk, and al-Watan).

On June 4, 2014, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) announced that Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi had won the presidency with over 96 percent of the vote. According to the PEC, more than 25 million voted in the election, for a turnout rate of over 47 percent. Turnout did not meet media expectations and was a source of agitated conflict over the three days of the vote, with some media reporting poor turnout and others confirming high turnout later in the day. The PEC ruled to extend voting to a third day over the objections of both candidates, which many media figures saw as damaging to the electoral process and based on misleading media reports and scare-mongering.

In this context, the second interim report reviews media tactics employed, during both the vote in Egypt and abroad, to encourage voter participation to meet the turnout target set before the poll. At times, the media employed sectarian rhetoric and referred to civil strife, reminding Copts of burned churches and violence against them, in an attempt to persuade them that taking part in the election would be an act of retribution against the faction that had persecuted them and torched their churches. Other media carried anonymously sourced reports that the Muslim Brotherhood had issued orders to its members to vote for Hamdeen Sabahi as a form of revenge against his competitor who had ousted their leader, or claimed that election boycotters were being paid. The media also encouraged voter participation by defaming, and at times insulting boycotters, using patriotism as a means of pressure. Media used all manner of formal and substantive tools, as well as ads and programming breaks, to incite against boycotters, issuing calls to exclude them after accusing them of terrorism, treason, and ignorance. In addition, the media spotlighted the crisis of voters living outside their polling precincts, accusing the PEC of failing to register them properly.

Amid media exaggerations of turnout, accuracy was absent from coverage during the two days of the vote. Some newspapers published photos from previous elections showing long lines and claiming they were taken in front of polling stations, while television channels featured live feeds from the same polling station showing different angles, claiming they were airing footage from different area. The report emphasizes that the role of the media during the vote is to report on the process and to encourage, in a professional and objective manner, citizens to participate, without resorting to intimidation or incitement and without magnifying or minimizing turnout numbers. This is linked to the media’s ability to report accurately on the vote, monitor its integrity, and encourage participation based on the principle of citizenship, which recognizes the citizen’s right to take part in decision making, not in order to exact revenge on a particular political faction, send a message to the world, or demonstrate hostility to certain international parties.

The report also looks at how al-Jazeera Egypt reported a low turnout to support its biased coverage of the vote. In an attempt to prop up the legitimacy of the Morsi regime, al-Jazeera Egypt depicted empty polling stations and lauded boycotters, although a boycott did not necessarily imply recognition of the legitimacy of the pre-June 30 regime. Al-Jazeera committed numerous, grave professional lapses to underscore its claims.

The report criticizes some unprofessional practices of correspondents reporting from polling stations, including reporting violations as normal and at times praiseworthy, violating the secrecy of the ballot, and instructing voters in the vicinity of polling stations.

The report warns about the dangers of preempting election outcomes and publishing preliminary results, especially after the expatriate vote, documenting the clear discrepancies in figures announced by the media during the ballot count in Egypt and abroad. It criticizes the way the media began to treat Sisi as the new president from the moment the polls closed, offering him their congratulations with utter disregard for the ballot count. Some press stories reported that one of the candidates had initiated presidential activities (forming a presidential team, taking a stance on the current government, examining youth projects) even before the vote began, let alone before the declaration of results.

The report focuses on ads published in the final run-up to the vote, when some state-owned media began publishing paid, pro-Sisi ads (specifically Radio Egypt, Egyptian Satellite Television, al-Ahram, and al-Gomhouriya), but no ads for his competitor. The report documents the appearance of pro-Sabahi ads in the final week before the vote on CBC and ONTV, but they were not put in heavy rotation.

Finally, the report identifies the media outlets that observed the moratorium on campaigning, and criticizes the way some program hosts attempted to circumvent the moratorium. Among the channels under review, Nile News and MBC Egypt fully complied with the moratorium, while Egyptian Satellite Television and ONTV partially complied. The latter two stations featured talk-show segments on the issues that would face the next president, which led guests to discuss the candidates’ platforms and positions on these issues. As for CBC, although its presenters pledged to respect the moratorium, one of them intentionally directed a message to “Sisi supporters” during the silence, telling them the world was waiting to find out the margin of his victory.

Among the radio stations, the presenters of Radio 90:90 attempted to comply with the moratorium to a certain extent, but the station continued to air pro-Sisi ads and excerpts from his speeches on programming breaks. The state-owned Radio Egypt is to be credited for observing the moratorium in programming breaks, ads, talk shows, and newscasts. Al-Shorouk honored the moratorium, while al-Watan breached it flagrantly and al-Masry al-Youm, al-Ahram, and al-Gomhouriya clearly broke the campaign silence.

To read the report, click here

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