The media talks to ghosts

The media talks to ghosts

Managing editor Rana Allam

Rana Allam

On Thursday 4 July, state owned news agency MENA and several international agencies, reported that the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, was arrested along with his deputy Khairat El-Shater.  We published the news.

On Friday 5 July, Badie was giving a speech from the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in where thousands of his supporters gathered.

On the afternoon of Saturday 6 July, MENA announced that ElBaradei was appointed prime minister; his political party confirmed the news. State-run newspaper Al Ahram published online that ElBaradei would be sworn in at 8pm that night, and some possible names of new ministers were also published. We published the news.

On the night of Saturday 6 July (and after we sent our newspaper to print), the presidency’s new media adviser Ahmed El-Moslimany announced that these reports were incorrect, and that ElBaradei is not the new Prime Minister of Egypt.

People wonder whether these were balloon tests conducted to see the reactions of the Egyptian public, in an attempt to find out how people would receive such news. But seriously, is this the time for balloon tests?

Back during the 25 January Revolution a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces went on TV to say that they had spread rumours in Tahrir to see the public’s reaction to them.

Every time we publish our news online, we are usually later than other news outlets because we wait to confirm before sending out news that might create chaos. And if we cannot confirm, we do not publish at all! With this type of news about Badie or ElBaradei, chaos and violence are likely to follow. Islamists would be enraged at such news, and we have seen, especially in the last week, what enraged Islamists are capable of.

Are they doing this again now, spreading rumours to test the public’s reaction? With people killing each other in Egyptian streets, is it the time for balloon tests?

Or is it merely lousy management?

Cabinet spokesmen resigned, presidency has no spokesmen, almost all the ministries have no spokesmen…and those who still work, never pick up their phones or reply to emails. The only ones who do respond are the military spokesmen, and the hiring and firing of Prime Ministers is not exactly what you ask the military spokesman!

Journalists have no officials to confirm news from. No one. And then they blame the media for publishing false news! Not one person denied the arrest of Badie. Not one person denied the appointment of ElBaradei. They had plenty of time to do that, but no one did.

The media adviser appointed recently advised the president to lie to the public and say that ElBaradei’s appointment is not true. The reality was something else, but that is not the topic of this column. The only point is the new adviser lied to the public in a press conference.

How are we supposed to work in these circumstances? How is the public to know what is really happening? Being transparent serves everyone, calms anger and contains chaos. Or at the very least, it gives the situation its true size.

The new administration should understand the importance of the media and respect the rights of people to know the truth. The media should not be used to test public opinion, nor should it be disregarded as unimportant. A line in a paper can bring about civil war. And the only way to contain that is for officials to be available to clarify, so the false news and the news that is implanted to create violence or hatred can be avoided.

The state news agency should be fully informed with the confirmed news that can be cascaded to the public, it is unprofessional and quite unbelievable that their own agency published false news, especially that they do not have spokesmen. And when they do, they usually don’t even pick up their phones or go to their offices!

In such days, the spokesmen of the interior minister, justice minister, presidency and prosecutor general should be on call 24/7 ready with answers. But alas, we are talking to ghosts!

I highly advise the new rulers of this country to watch for the media; it can make or break their efforts.

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