The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a press conference yesterday to present the first progress report evaluating the performance of independent and state-owned mass media during the first week (August 17-23) of presidential campaigns.
The report reviews the performance of four state-owned TV channels (Ch. 1, Ch.2, Ch.3, Nile News), two independent channels (Dream 2 & al-Mehwer), and seventeen independent and state-owned newspapers and magazines.
The main features of the report can be summarized as follows:
First: All in all, media performance is improving compared to previous performance in past similar occasions, e.g. referendum and Parliamentary elections. It has to be noted, though, that this is Egypt’s first presidential elections, and that the methodology adopted by the CIHRS is applied for the first time in Egypt. This methodology, however, was previously applied in other countries, including Tunisia, Lebanon and Palestine.
Second: The political value of this step is very limited, given the need for more free competitiveness at all political levels. This is especially the case given that Egypt’s main problem in this respect is that politics has been willfully and systematically undermined for more than 50 years. Hence the first condition for serious reform is reviving politics, in form and content. Nevertheless, the amended article 76 of the Constitution does not push toward achieving this, nor do the Law on Presidential Elections nor the latest frustrating amendments to the Law on Political Parties support this reform.
Third: Unexpectedly, the performance of governmental TV channels has been more positive than that of the governmental press. However, inherent restrictions in the standards set forth by the Ministry of Information did not provide a favorable climate for political competitiveness. This is because of prohibition of debates and preventing candidates from evaluating each other. Hence, voters are not enabled to make informed decisions, and citizens shunning from politics and elections for more than 50 years are not motivated.
Fourth: In comparison to state-owned TV channels, which are directly supervised by the Ministry of Information, governmental press enjoys a margin of freedom. Nevertheless, the majority of newspapers have dedicated themselves to supporting the ruling party’s candidate, and sometimes, to challenging his main competitors.
Fifth: Some private/independent newspapers, in particular EL-Masri EL-Youm and Nahdet Masr, provided excellent service both at the level of information and analysis. This is unprecedented in over 50 years. Such high performance could help voters decide for one candidate or the other, or even abstain from voting altogether.
Sixth: The High Committee for Presidential Elections did not react to such media violations, but rather announced in yesterday’s press that: “no violations were detected in the process of electoral propaganda.”!! This position raises serious doubts about the actual role of the Committee especially that the head of the Committee took it upon himself to prevent civil society NGOs from field monitoring of the electoral process.
Finally, CIHRS hopes that concerned parties take these points into consideration, act accordingly and correct what the report might have got wrong.
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