Several hundred Egyptian journalists have rejected a policy declaration by newspaper editors pledging support for the state and banning criticism of the police, army and judiciary in their publications.
“Standing up to terrorism with a shackled media and sealed lips means offering the nation to extremism as an easy prey and turning public opinion into a blind creature unaware of the direction from which it is being hit or how to deal with it,” said the statement.
Khaled al-Balshi, editor of a news website and a board member of the journalists’ union, said at least 300 journalists had signed the statement.
“It is an attempt to make newspapers speak with one voice,” he told the Associated Press. “The move by the editors of the newspapers was like establishing a political party in support of the regime. They want to end diversity.”
The dispute between journalists and editors is the latest episode inEgypt‘s struggle between the authorities and their loyalist media on one side and a small but vocal pro-democracy camp, made up mostly of secular and leftist youth groups, on the other.
The dispute is rooted in the recent erosion of many of the freedoms Egyptians won when Hosni Mubarak was tipped from power.
In the months since al-Sisi took office in June, after a landslide election victory, journalists have complained about growing restrictions on freedom of expression.
The 26 October editors’ declaration said they would take measures to halt what it called the “infiltration by elements supporting terrorism” in their publications.
Significantly, the editors also stated their “rejection” of what they called attempts to cast doubt on state institutions, basic policy choices and criticism of the army, police or judiciary that “may reflect negatively on their performance.”
One private TV channel said it intended to bar certain guests from its political programmes on charges of being “rumour mongers” — parlance for government critics.
AP quotes a freelance journalist who opposes the editors as saying: “You can never counter terrorism by suspending freedoms.”