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Top media execs accused of campaigning in their own news outlets
Tawfiq Okasha

Some parliamentary candidates are in the hot seat for allegedly abusing their positions as owners of media platforms to promote their electoral campaigns.

At the forefront of the scandal is Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) head Osama Heikal, who has been accused of using the compound’s TV studios to shoot ads for the For the Love of Egypt list. Heikal is a leading figure in the alliance’s political office, and part of the list’s Greater Cairo ticket.

Mahmoud al-Askalany, a candidate for a competing electoral list simply called Egypt, filed a complaint on Sunday against Heikal and For the Love of Egypt. Askalany accused Heikal of abusing his power by hosting a rally for his campaign at the EMPC premises. He claimed Heikal also allowed other For the Love of Egypt candidates to shoot TV spots in the EMPC studios at reduced rates.

Heikal was using a state institution to serve a personal political agenda, thus threatening the principle of equal opportunity, Askalany argued in a statement published by the Egypt list’s legal representative.

EMPC quickly denied the allegations, and claimed that the organization did not favor any one institution or individual, nor did it offer financial benefits to any electoral lists, the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.

In another example, on Wednesday the privately owned Al-Bawaba newspaper ran a front-page story announcing that its editor-in-chief, Abdel Rehim Ali, was opening a facility to sell meat at reduced prices to residents of the Meet Okba district. That district falls in the constituency where Rehim Ali is running for parliament, but the story claims that the new facility is not related to Rehim Ali’s campaign, and would continue to operate after the elections.

Al-Bawaba front page

Al-Bawaba front page

In addition, an entire section of Al-Bawaba’s website is dedicated to promoting events in Rehim Ali’s electoral campaign. Another prominent section on the homepage links to his personal website.

Al-Bawaba home page

Al-Bawaba home page

The privately owned Al-Wafd newspaper, which is the official mouthpiece of the liberal Wafd Party, has also dedicated an entire section to publicizing campaign events for the party’s candidates nationwide. The parliament section on Al-Wafd’s website is similarly dominated by news of the party’s candidates, as well as photos and descriptions of their electoral platforms.

Al-Wafd news site

Al-Wafd news site

The High Elections Commission (HEC) had banned media personnel who are running for parliament from working during the official campaigning period. To help guard against such abuses, the HEC assembled an official committee to monitor elections coverage in newspapers and TV channels. Committee members include officials from the state-affiliated Egyptian Radio and Television Union, private sector media professionals, academics and members of the National Council for Human Rights.

Committee spokesperson Ihab al-Sayyad told the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that a number of candidates working in television and print media have violated HEC regulations.

He pointed in particular to Tawfik Okasha, owner of the satellite channel Al-Faraeen. Okasha regularly appears as the main guest on Al-Faraeen’s daily talk show, Misr Al-Youm (Egypt Today), hosted by Hayat al-Dardery. In one of his appearances, Okasha conjectured as to why he was barred from running in the elections (the courts later reinstated his candidacy).

Sayyad slammed Okasha for leveraging his position as owner of the channel to get himself onto the show and promote his campaign. The spokesperson said a report would be filed to the HEC on all campaign violations, including Okasha’s ongoing transgressions.