“With each new stage of political transition in Egypt, hopes soar for a new era of freedom of speech,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator and the author of the report. “But Egypt’s move from the Mubarak era, to Morsi’s presidency, and now to the military-backed transitional government has not been mirrored by a transition from the repressive media policies of the past.”
CPJ’s report, “On the Divide: Press Freedom at Risk in Egypt,” details the intolerance of dissent that marked Morsi’s rule and helped lead to his downfall. CPJ found that Morsi and his supporters used politicized laws and regulations to retaliate against critical journalists. In the first nine months of his presidency, hundreds of criminal defamation cases were brought against reporters. CPJ also documented at least 78 assaults against journalists from August 2012 until Morsi’s fall, including the fatal shooting of critical reporter Al-Hosseiny Abou Deif.
Within minutes of the military’s July 3 takeover, authorities imposed wide censorship against pro-Morsi news outlets and restricted coverage of Muslim Brotherhood activities. The military and the transitional government have said they want to create a journalistic code of ethics, and have conditioned the lifting of existing censorship on its adoption. Amid the tumult, a deep partisan divide has emerged within the Egyptian media that has prevented journalists from speaking out as one.
In its recommendations, CPJ called on Egyptian authorities to immediately end all censorship without condition, develop clear and unequivocal constitutional articles that enshrine press freedom, and undertake thorough statutory reform to bring all laws in conformance with international standards for freedom of expression. In particular, authorities should repeal insult laws in the penal code and eliminate all prison penalties for perceived press offenses. CPJ also called on authorities, political parties, and the press corps to respect the role of all journalists and to condemn all attacks on press freedom.
“Egyptian democracy will not flourish without a diverse, vibrant, and secure media environment,” Mansour said. “The interim government must be held to its pledge of protecting freedom of press and expression, not least to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”