Reporters Without Borders has published a report on how Egypt’s state-controlled media are running smear campaigns against journalists who criticise the government.
These attacks are coordinated, says the report, and follow a set pattern. First, a presenter insults a journalist on a TV channel, then the rumours are picked up and spread on social media. Egypt has thousands of fake accounts which are mobilised to defend the government and attack journalists.
Among these prominent TV presenters are Ahmed Moussa, Nashaat Al-Dihy, Mohamed El-Baz and Mostafa Bakry who have close ties with state security and have through these secured prominent positions in the Egyptian media. Their smear campaigns are also picked up by the state media apparatus, including publications like Youm7.
These journalists are labelled “enemies of the homeland” and are pitted against the “patriotic” journalists who are allegdly preventing an attack on the army and the country.
Often, the critical journalists are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and accused of terrorism, a threat to national security and in this way repressive measures used against them are justified.
For example, one state-run media headline about Khaled El-Balshy, director of Daaarb and former vice-president of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, read: “Diabolical figure El-Balshy exploits public’s concerns in order to publish fake news about the Egyptian state.”
In its attack on former BBC and Al Jazeera presenter Yosri Fouda the government media said: “Yosri Fouda is among those who hate the Egyptian state… those who hate the state and its institutions.”
Of the Lebanese journalist Liliane Daoud who was deported from Egypt, “No Liliane, you are not a daughter of this country. You are the daughter of something else. You were driven out of Egypt because you have no values.”
“You don’t deserve to live here among Egyptians. Egypt sheltered you and protected you, but you were like a poisoned knife blade, and it was for this reason that you were discarded. Egypt is too honourable and pure for people like you.”
Other journalists targeted include Lina Attalah, who has been accused of publishing articles to receive foreign funding, and investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat, who has been accused of plotting with Europe and the US to gain support for his “cause”.
Bahgat has also been described as “a suspicious person with a network of suspicious international contacts.”
Women have been singled out for particularly vicious treatment, with Esraa Abdel Fattah accused of not wearing a headscarf and photographs of her in a bikini circulated on TV channels.
Journalists are often arrested at the time these smear campaigns take place, to justify the repressive measures taken against them.
The campaigns have succeeded in creating a climate of fear. Journalists have been stigmatised and have been unable to work.
Throughout his rule, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has taken control of private media, and tightened his control of state media, which RSF calls the “sisification” of the media.
If this practice is not quickly stopped it “could end up completely eliminating Egypt’s already dying independent press,” says RSF’s report.