Elections in the Dark
"In the span of only a few weeks, the whole media scene was changed. The outspoken editor of Egypt's most independent newspaper was removed and its editorial policy changed, widely read columns critical of the government in various papers were stopped, television talk shows were canceled, a program presenter was removed, a popular talk show host was forced to take a sudden vacation, and another program was compelled to temporarily broadcast from Tunisia.
"Following the proverb that says strike whoever is in reach and those roaming free will fear, 12 private television channels were suddenly shut down on the grounds that they broadcast religious hatred, while of course religious hatred aired by state-owned television channels, papers, and publishing houses has long been ignored. This move struck fear into the owners and staff of other private channels, especially when warnings were issued to several others soon thereafter. All channels and talk shows began to review their policies. Interest in election coverage waned, heated debates disappeared, and television coverage was altered to focus on criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood or non-political technical observations. The list of prohibited persons grew longer, and a second list was added for those who are banned from appearing live. Even Al Jazeera, the best outlet for coverage of the 2005 elections, succumbed to the veiled threat of closing its office, Moroccan-style, by reducing its criticism.
"Independent newspapers have devoted less space to elections than in 2005, and the red lines have proliferated. Front-page-worthy news is now found on page four or six, as self-censorship has increased. Statements by human rights groups and others on the elections are ignored, even for topics that would have been on the front page a few months ago. Tightening the siege on the media, the Ministry of Information formed a McCarthyite committee to investigate the media's adherence to 'professional standards' and ensure that it expresses no misgivings about the elections."