If readers of Egyptian dailies pay close attention to the sources of the published news, they would notice that the most important reports are either attributed to the security institution or to sovereign entities. It is as if Egypt doesn’t have any political sources. This gives the impression that the country’s important news is only available within the surroundings of the security institution. This institution’s infiltration of journalism in particular and the media outlets in general is nothing new.
Those who work in the field know that security apparatuses have planted their men in different newspapers, looked after them for decades and even helped them attain prominent positions. This, we can understand. It’s rather an ordinary measure in any police state especially after media outlets became the most important of means in influencing people’s awareness and brainwashing them. Authoritarian regimes in the past used to control societies through armies and security apparatuses. Media outlets, due to their power of influence, now play a part in this control. Those who read George Orwell’s famous book 1984, in which he depicts the Nazism grip on society, find that the Ministry of Truth, in charge of forging news and lying to the people, represents one of the state’s pillars. This is what Frances Stonor Saunders highlighted in her book The Cultural Cold War. She followed up on the role which the CIA carried out in using the media, in addition to arts and cultural activity, since the beginning of the struggle against the Soviet Union. The security apparatuses’ use of the media has a history that dates back to the years of the Cold War which followed World War II. If this happened before the revolution of telecommunications and information technology, then you can imagine the extent these efforts reached in the wake of this revolution.
Egyptian veteran journalists note that the security apparatuses’ relationship with the media has undergone two major phases. During the first phase, these apparatuses made sure to know what’s going on in dailies through the men they’ve recruited. At the same time, they worked on indirectly and cautiously persuading writers and op-ed authors. During the second phase, they started to use journalists to influence public onion by marketing certain news or adopting certain opinions that serve certain policies. They didn’t settle at persuading op-ed writers. They began to recruit them and feed them what to write. The editors-in-chief’s close relationship with security apparatuses was apparent during both phases. But the relation was one of dialogue during the first phase. And in the second phase, the relation became one of dependency and exploitation.
The security institution’s infiltration of journalism and control of the media is certainDr. Fahmy Howeidy
And since I claim I am one of these veterans, I, and others like me, know of many stories and experiences that support this conclusion I’ve reached. Since the press community is originally a community of gossip, the buzz over the role of men who are affiliated with security apparatuses and who work at dailies never stopped.
I heard from a veteran who worked at al-Ahram that 30 journalists used to write reports about their colleagues in the 1960s. The number probably doubled afterwards. Some of our colleagues succeeded at attaining some of these reports. I do not know how they managed to do that but what I do know is that some of those who wrote these reports have now become famous in the fields of television and journalism. These people’s only talent has always been limited to being loyal to those who recruited them and looking after them until they reached the positions they currently hold.
During the first phase, security apparatuses used editors while editors-in-chief communicated with the country’s political leadership. During the second phase when the politicians’ role decreased, the image became completely different. Security apparatuses began to communicate directly with editors-in-chief. The latter became the former’s eyes and aides. And the editors began to receive semi-daily orders from the members of these security apparatuses. When the situation became as such, everyone’s dependency on security apparatuses became a familiar issue which no one bothered to hide and which no one is ashamed of.
At the beginning of the January 25 revolution, a fact-finding commission, headed by Judge Adel Qoura, was established to investigate the murder of protesters and the Battle of the Camel. The commission’s report accused certain security apparatuses of being responsible for murdering protesters. But what happened is that the report was ignored. It was as if no report had been written. The trials which were held afterwards only depended on the testimonies of members of the security institution - considering it was the only approved party. Therefore, everyone was exonerated and no one was held accountable for murdering protesters. This wasn’t a unique case as has been repeated several times. We have thus realized that the security institution is not the only party which controls politics and molds the public opinion’s mood, but it’s also the party which rewrote history after January 25. The security institution’s infiltration of journalism and control of the media is certain. It’s a big part of a bigger mission represented by making history and writing it, at least until further notice.
Note: After writing this column, I read that Dr. Mohammad Mursi’ trial would not be broadcast and that the Interior Ministry would handle taking footage of him and record his statements and that a summary of these statements would be broadcast in a news segment. How very transparent.
This article was first published in al-Shorouk on Nov. 5, 2013.
Dr. Fahmy Howeidy has worked in journalism since 1958 for Egypt's Al-Ahram Foundation. He is currently the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Al-Ahram newspaper. Previously, Howeidy served as the Managing Editor of Kuwait's Al-Arabi magazine and of Arabia magazine, which is published in London, UK in English. He is now fully dedicated to contributing to Al-Ahram and has a column each Tuesday published in six Arab countries in Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Majalla, and Al-Wafd Newspaper. Howeidy has had seventeen books published, including: The Quran and the Sultan, Awareness Forgery, In Order Not to be A Sedition, Islam in China, Iran from the Inside, Taliban, Establishing Due Rights, and The Crisis of Religious Awareness. Howeidy is a specialist in Arab and Islamic affairs.