CAIRO (AP) — The military says Tamer Abdel-Raouf sped through a military checkpoint, ignoring soldiers’ warning shots. A colleague who was with him in the car says he obeyed the soldiers’ orders to turn back, but they opened fire anyway as he was making a U-turn.
The result was the same: The reporter for the flagship Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on Monday became the fifth journalist to die as the media are swept up in the bloodshed roiling Egypt.
Television and radio stations air patriotic songs while a slew of talk show hosts glorify the military that seized power and denounce the Islamist government it overthrew.
It’s a sharp turnaround from the challenges these same journalists faced under President Mohammed Morsi’s rule, when reporters were sued by Islamist lawyers for “insulting the president.” After his ouster, his Muslim Brothehrood group openly blacklisted 50 of those media personalities.
Now journalists are facing deadlier perils.
A week ago Mick Deane of the British TV broadcaster Sky News and two Egyptian journalists were fatally shot while covering the violent breakup of protest camps in Cairo. Other foreign journalists are also feeling the pressure, complaining that security forces fail to respect the exemption that allows them on the streets after nighttime curfew.
The tense media landscape is increasingly mirroring the venomous atmosphere, where people are fractured along political lines.
“The whole media scene has been extremely polarized and it’s a reflection of the polarization in society,” said Rasha Abdulla, a media professor at the American University in Cairo.
TV presenters have sung the national anthem on TV and openly cried tears of joy when Morsi was ousted seven weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Morsi’s Brotherhood group has waged its own media campaign online and through its spokesmen on social media websites after channels sympathetic to the group were shuttered last month.
In one, a spokesman posted a picture of dead Syrian children online, claiming they were Egyptian kids killed by police. In clashes that the Health Ministry said killed around 80 people, the Brotherhood’s emails to reporters initially claimed 200 were killed. At another point it claimed the overall death toll was more than triple what the Health Ministry was reporting.
The discrepancies come from both sides, as the death of reporter Abdel-Raouf demonstrates.
A statement by the army said that he sped through a checkpoint after curfew and soldiers fired warning shots.
However, Hamed al-Barbari of Al-Gomhuria newspaper told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists that the two, riding in the car together, were turned back by soldiers at the checkpoint. He said the soldiers then fired at the car as they were making a U-turn, shooting Abdel-Raouf in the head.
Abdel-Raouf had been critical of Morsi’s ouster on Facebook and other social media, though the CPJ said there was no evidence that he was targeted for his views.
Western journalists have come under attack from angry citizens. CPJ reported that during violent protests Saturday, Annabell Van Den Berghe, a freelance journalist with the Belgian public broadcaster VRT, and crew were confronted by people who accused them of being American spies and said Western media were biased. They beat a crew member but did not harm the journalists.
The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, particularly its channel dedicated to live coverage of events in Egypt, has been the only major Arabic-language outlet for the Muslim Brotherhood’s views. Its Cairo office was raided by security forces last week and two of its journalists detained.
A number of its presenters quit around the time of Morsi’s ouster, saying the station had misled viewers. The network counters that it is covering all events in Egypt with “balance and integrity”
Three Turkish journalists, Metin Turan and Heba Zakaria were arrested over the weekend and Tahir Osman Hamde was reported arrested on Tuesday. It’s not clear whether any have been released.
Senior Egyptian officials have taken to critiquing the foreign media.
The State Information Service released a statement saying some media outlets are “falling short of describing events of June 30 as an expression of popular will.”
Meeting foreign journalists recently, interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy expressed his frustration.
“You have a problem of your profession frankly,” he said, saying the limited space to report complex issues makes the journalists “very superficial in what you are doing.” ”And frankly,” he added, “many of you have covered the news incorrectly and unfairly.”
Adel Iskandar, author of “Egypt in Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution,” said that under the rule of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, “The military was untouchable and invisible” and that “the media, both state and private, were obedient because they were censored.
“Now they are willfully on the bandwagon.”
Under Mubarak, bloggers were targeted as well. Mostly liberal, leftist and secular protesters active on Twitter and Facebook were beaten and arrested during subsequent rallies against the military rulers who temporarily took over after he was toppled. Similarly, online administrators of Brotherhood websites and online activists sympathetic to the group are now being arrested, shot at and even killed by security forces at anti-government protests.
Noha Radwan, a scholar of Arabic literature at University of California at Davis, follows events in her native Egypt closely, and says the media is actually driving polarization in the country.
“For the past three weeks media sources on the ground, whether they are the governmental or the independent channels. have been working the public into nothing short of a mass hysteria,” she wrote, blaming both the state media and Islamists.
“Every media source in Egypt is lying, spreading hearsay, and dismissing reports that do not serve their agendas. The result is a frenzied and divided population that is proving uncharacteristically callous to the bloodshed among one group or the other.”
Iskandar said that while Egypt may not be in a state of actual war, the battle lines have been drawn in the media
Egypt, he said, “is in a state of media and rhetorical war.”