Egypt’s presidential spokesperson came out swinging at London-based newspaper The Guardian on Monday, claiming it had become the “mouthpiece of the counter-revolution.”
“The Guardian has lost its credibility among Egyptian readers because it has become hostile to the June 30 revolution and a mouthpiece of the counter-revolution,” said Ahmed al-Moslemany, the presidency’s media advisor, in quotes carried by state-run news portal Egynews.
In a statement responding to Moslemany’s remarks, a Guardian news and media spokesperson said, “We reject the claims made by the Egyptian presidency’s media consultant. The Guardian has always had a strong commitment to reporting from the Middle East and our coverage of the region is just as independent and robust as our coverage of any other part of the world.”
Since former President Mohamed Morsi was removed from power by an army ultimatum after mass protests demanding his removal, media has been as highly polarized as the country at large. Local media in particular has taken a clear position on whether to call the recent regime change a “coup” or a “revolution.”
“Whoever examines the headlines regularly will realize that it has completely fallen into the pit of hatred and incitement,” Moslemany said.
In the aftermath of the violent dispersal of two sit-ins demanding Morsi’s reinstatement on August 14, foreign media was heavily scrutinized and has come under harsh criticism by the state. At times, government officials have issued overt statements denouncing the coverage.
Hesham Kassem told Mada Masr that while he would not describe The Guardian as a mouthpiece for the counter-revolution, it could be criticized at a professional level for its “poor editorial stances.”
They are “not getting it right” when it comes to remaining objective, he said, adding that there have been complaints from opinion writers who say the paper is denying critical pieces.
But The Guardian says “we work with commentators in Egypt to publish a wide range of opinions that reflect ongoing divisions amongst Egyptians themselves in order to ensure that our overall coverage is as balanced as possible. …These pieces will not necessarily reflect the Guardian’s own editorial position.”
Explaining what he perceives as the paper’s stance, Kassem says “there is a vision that they are lefty and pro-underdogs, and have a sentiment that Islamists have been dealt with unjustly … they don’t seem to realize that this is not the case.”
Journalists working in Egypt have been operating in an increasingly precarious climate. At times, anger was rife on the streets against CNN, while more stringent legal measures have been taken against Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau and its journalists.
Days after clashes broke out at Al-Fath Mosque in Ramses Square, for example, the streets became frenzied about media coverage, and several journalists were randomly arrested while reporting on the violence, both by plain-clothed policemen as well as angry mobs of civilians.
At the time, the State Information Service issued a statement saying, “Egypt is feeling severe bitterness towards some Western media coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood, and ignores shedding light on violent and terror acts that are perpetrated by this group in the form of intimidation operations and terrorizing citizens, let alone the killing of innocent people and setting churches and public and private property on fire, along with storming police stations and blocking roads and all other forms of thuggery and sabotage.”
In a presser at the time, presidential advisor Mostafa Hegazy criticized the Western media for ignoring attacks on churches and focusing only on police violence against the Brotherhood.
In Monday’s statements, Moslemany added that The Guardian is out of touch with what is happening in Egypt, and has succumbed to “copying what is posted in counter revolutionary websites.”
But since Morsi’s ouster, questions of objectivity and balanced reporting have become increasingly relative depending on the affiliations of the observers.
“The Guardian has a correspondent based in Cairo and has done so since January 2011. Other Guardian journalists visit the country regularly, and just last week we received a Frontline Club award for our reporting in this region,” the newspaper’s statement said.
After one of the most violent confrontations between security forces and Morsi supporters at the Republican Guard Headquarters, The Guardian produced arguably one of the most thorough investigations of the incident, and pieced together a comprehensive narrative of the contentious timeline of events.
“It’s asinine to believe that the world would not baulk at the level of bloodshed that has taken place in Egypt in recent months, let alone ignore it. Events on such a scale must be reported, and will of course be robustly debated and discussed — that should be obvious to all,” said Abdel-Rahman Hussein, a former Guardian correspondent.
The landscape is not any safer for local journalists. Ahmed Abu Deraa, the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm’s correspondent in North Sinai governorate, was referred to military trial for reporting on the effect of Sinai military operations on residents of the area.
“We accept that criticism and controversy are inevitable in a situation of profound political polarization,” The Guardian’s statement read.