Egyptians call them “emperors”, and, every night, millions tune in to watch them lecture, entertain and rant their way through hours of television output. However, the very entertainers people love to watch are also widely recognised as by-products of a state of censorship that has become synonymous with Egyptian media – by-products and hosts on the front lines of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi‘s government’s propaganda efforts.
“One of the key aspects of these talk shows is the way they whip out a sense of national emergency,” says Marwan Kraidy, director at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication. “They react in a very emotional, sensationalistic way to very atrocious events. You not only support the government. You bend over backwards, so to speak. So, dissidents, political prisoners are typically vilified, they are portrayed as enemies of the nation.
“And if you portray anybody as an enemy of the nation in a time of emergency,” continues Kraidy, “what you’re saying is ‘it’s okay to jail them, it’s okay to beat them up.’ And, in some cases, ‘it’s okay to kill them.'”
Most hosts understand that toeing the line may be overlooked – although not recommended – but are very well aware of the consequences that await them should they cross the unspoken red line set out by the Sisi government. Criticism of the president, the military and/or intelligence services are all off limits.
One such journalist who didn’t heed the general warnings and guidelines was Ibrahim Eissa.
“Ibrahim Eissa is sort of the type of muckraking, investigative journalist who’s not afraid of speaking truth to power. He became known for, basically, confronting Mubarak and his sons,” says Kraidy. “So that’s one example. Another famous talk show host is Amr el-Laithy. He’s not afraid to push controversial issues. And that was his undoing, for airing a very famous interview.
“You have to keep in mind that it all comes down to information: who has it and who doesn’t, how it’s delivered,” says analyst and political columnist Amr Khalifa. “Hats off to the Sisi regime for understanding the 21st century, for understanding the link between lack of education, ease of dissemination, obstruction of information.”
Marwan Kraidy, director, Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication and author of The Naked Blogger of Cairo
Fatima El Issawi, senior lecturer in Journalism, University of Essex and author of Arab National Media and Political Change
Source: Al Jazeera