I have written previously on Egyptian journalism and its deterioration, but this is probably the worst example I have seen.
The CEO of Al Ahram newspaper, the official government newspaper, Mosry Atallah, has written an article on the 24th of November 2007 expressing his disapproval of how Egyptian newspapers are highlighting the problems in Egypt. He stated that we exaggerate in blaming ourselves in the name of press freedom. He added that the Egyptian press has become only focused on the negatives and not on the positive things in Egypt. He claimed that he is not calling on the newspapers not to cover the negatives, but that real freedom is based on preaching hope.
Mr. Morsy Atallah then gave an example from the US to prove his point. He said that some years ago he was traveling with President Mubarak to Washington D.C. As usual, as he says foreign and Arab journalists flock to the Hotel where Mubarak is staying to learn of his opinions. Mr. Atallah says that an Arab journalist had met with him than and blamed Egyptian newspapers for covering on the front page a water pump explosion in Tahrir square, Egypt’s main square. The claimed Arab journalist had supposedly told him this happens all the time in the US and that it is not covered by US newspapers as they have an unwritten agreement between US newspapers to avoid highlighting such negative incidents so as not to shake the union of the American people. He then showed him a copy of the Washington Post and highlighted a little story in the internal pages about a plane crash that left 45 people dead and 53 injured. The claimed Arab journalist then asked him if such an incident had occurred in Egypt, would it receive such minor coverage or would all newspapers talk about it?
My first reaction was to write a strong article totally mocking the so called unwritten agreement and talking about the US newspapers in uncovering Watergate and Abu Ghrieb, but I cautioned myself not to jump on the guy’s throat and to research the matter further. I decided to look up in the Washington Post archives to find this plane crash and to analyze the coverage it received in US newspapers. My efforts failed totally as there was no mention of the plane crash in the Washington Post. That was quite a surprise to me and it seemed to support Mr. Atallah’s claims.
I then went on and searched the archive’s of all plane crash incidents in the world and my surprise was complete when I received confirmation that no incident anywhere in the world fits with Mr. Atallah’s description even if we go back to the 1930’s.
Mr. Atallah in an attempt to support his otherwise unbelievable argument and claims has totally made up his supporting evidence. This is not the first time for the highest ranking journalist in Egypt. In June 2007, Mr. Atallah wrote a whole series of articles in which he discussed the neoconservative ideology. The articles were typical of the Egyptian media’s ignorance, but that is not the issue here. Having been virtually ignored on the 2th of June, Mr. Atallah published an article in which he claimed that he had received a reply from Egyptian American political commentator Magdi Khalil defending neocons and the US government. Mr. Atallah went on to attack Magdi Khalil and his stands accusing him of calling for the cut of US Aid to Egypt. Magdi Khalil sent a reply to Al Ahram stating that he had not sent Morsi Atallah any reply whatsoever and asked for it to be published. Al Ahram of course did not publish his letter and Magdi was forced to publish it elsewhere.
This level of journalism can be expected from an unknown journalist in a tabloid newspaper, but not from Al Ahram’s CEO.