Media regulator penalizes news outlets over election coverage

News outlets accused of publishing inaccurate coverage of the presidential election were handed hefty fines on Sunday by the Supreme Media Regulatory Council, which also referred several journalists to investigation by the Journalists Syndicate.

The council issued a LE50,000 fine to the privately owned Masr al-Arabia, and a LE150,000 fine to the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, ordering the latter to issue an apology to the National Elections Authority and referring the editor in chief and a journalist to investigation by the syndicate.

Mahmoud Kamel, a member of the Journalists Syndicate’s board, told Mada Masr that the board would evaluate the non-binding decision to refer the staff members to investigation. He criticized the body for handing out punishments without having first conducted an investigation, adding that the council, which was formed last year, currently has no regulations in place outlining penalties for the media outlets it regulates.    

The public prosecutor also referred on Sunday a complaint about Al-Masry Al-Youm’s election coverage, filed by pro-state lawyer Samir Sabry, to the State Security Prosecution, which will decide whether to open investigations. According to Kamel, an investigation by the syndicate is intended as an alternative to a criminal investigation, and as such there may be no need for it to take place if a complaint is being addressed by prosecutors.

Al-Masry Al-Youm came under fire for a front-page headline on Thursday that read: “State mobilized voters on last day of election.” The NEA filed an official complaint on Saturday regarding the piece, which reported on public employees offering incentives to citizens in hopes of pushing them to the polls to vote for current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s second term.

Masr al-Arabiya was penalized for its Thursday overview of a New York Times’ piece titled “For as Little as $3 a Vote, Egyptians Trudge to Election Stations.” The council accused the website of copying the foreign newspapers’ coverage without verifying the facts. Masr al-Arabia is among the 500 websites to which access is currently blocked on Egyptian ISPs.

Al-Masry Al-Youm retracted its headline the same day it was published, replacing it in the second print and online with one that reads: “Initial polling indicators show Sisi crushing Moussa.” The newspaper has since apologized for what it calls misleading wording, asserting that the headline was meant to have a positive connotation.

In an editorial published on Sunday, Al-Masry Al-Youm states that mobilization referred to the means by which governments all over the world seek to encourage political participation. The piece also affirms the support of the privately owned newspaper’s staff and owners for Sisi and the state. “We congratulate you on your win and we support you now, like we always have and always will,” it reads.

ِAbdel Latif al-Menawy, a member of the newspaper’s board, apologized in a televised interview with “DMC’s Evening” host Osama Kamal on Thursday for what he called: “an inaccurate choice of words that didn’t take into consideration professional, political and popular factors.” Menawy said that the incident is being investigated internally.

Reuters was also compelled to remove a report documenting the mobilization of voters using monetary incentives on Thursday, after the State Information Service, which regulates the work of foreign journalists in Egypt, complained to the news agencies’ management.


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