State Media Presents Frank, Unprecedented Coverage of Crisis With AM-Egypt-Riots, Bjt
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ As a popular singer warbles ″Egypt Is My Mother,″ a television camera moves across the burned out hotels, smashed cars and looted shops, stark evidence of the worst rioting of Hosni Mubarak’s four-year presidency.
Scenes of destruction have been broadcast repeatedly by state television since Tuesday, when two days of rioting triggered by a mutiny among the country’s 120,000-strong Central Security Force swept Cairo and other cities.
Cairo’s three major state-owned newspapers also have carried detailed reports on the violence, including eyewitness accounts of army helicopters spraying mutineers’ camps with rocket and machine-gun fire.
Such frank, open coverage of a domestic crisis, the worst since President Hosni Mubarak took office after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, is unprecedented in Egypt, where the government owns the broadcast media and major publications.
Egypt’s print and broadcast media in the past have played down, misrepresented or even ignored events which may embarrass the government, especially if they may tarnish the country’s image abroad.
″This is an implementation of a new information policy calling for publication of all the facts, up-to-date, minute-by-minute, with sound and pictures,″ said Samia Sadek, director of Egyptian Television. ″The aim is to avoid having people believe false rumors.″
The policy also appears aimed at countering whatever sympathy may exist within Egypt’s 48 million people for the mutineers, who were joined by hundreds of ordinary citizens angry at diminishing living standards brought down by the country’s economic crisis.
As the camera showed luxury hotels gutted by the rioters, one commentator noted that ″it will cost us millions to repair this damage.″
Scenes of destruction, including wrecked cars, firefighters battling blazes and glass-strewn streets, are accompanied by stirring lyrics like ″Egypt is my mother, its Nile waters run in my blood.″
Regardless of the motives, the new policy has provided ordinary Egyptians with far more accurate information about current tensions than they received from their own news media in the past.
During the 1967 Middle East War, Cairo radio broadcast stirring accounts of Arab victories as the Israeli army was approaching the Suez Canal and the Egyptian air force lay in ruins.
State news media did not announce the deaths of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970 and Sadat in 1981 until hours after each had died. After Nasser’s death, official censors refused to allow foreign journalists to report the news for hours after word of it spread through the city.
One senior media executive, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said the new policy was largely in response to public criticism of the reporting last November of the botched Egyptian attempt to rescue hostages aboard an EgyptAir jetliner hijacked to Malta.
Egyptian television interrupted its regular programs to announce that commandos had stormed the plane and ″all the passengers are safe.″ The announcement was repeated periodically through the night, while foreign news agencies and radio stations were reporting that 58 of the hostages had been killed.
It was not until the following morning, nearly 12 hours later, that Egyptians heard from their own media of the large number of deaths, even though most of the victims were Egyptians.