Mubarak death reports dent credibility of Egypt's media

By Muhammad Shukri
BBC Monitoring

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
News of Mubarak's health featured on the front pages

The announcement by Egypt's official Mena news agency that Hosni Mubarak was "clinically dead" at a military hospital in Cairo - something that was swiftly denied by officials and the former president's lawyer - raises questions about the credibility of state media in the post-revolution era.

Despite some improvements in their editorial policies, there has not been a genuinely comprehensive restructuring of state-run television stations and newspapers, as well as Mena, in the 15 months since Mubarak was forced to step down.


On Tuesday, Mena reported that Mubarak had been "clinically dead upon arrival at al-Maadi Military Hospital from Tora Prison Hospital".

This news, which Mena stated had come from medical sources, soon spread around the world, with local and international media quoting it as a credible source.

However, it was not long before security officials, including two members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), categorically denied that the 84 year old had been clinically dead", although they confirmed that he was in a critical condition.

Mubarak is understood to have suffered a stroke which left him unconscious.

This was not even the first instance of misreporting by Mena this week.

On Monday, the agency had said the head of the Scaf, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, had issued a decree appointing Maj-Gen Abdul Mumin Fuda as the new president's chief of staff, before the result of the weekend's run-off election had even been announced.

Mena added that Field Marshal Tantawi had decided that Gen Fuda would also be chairman of the presidency's new committee for financial affairs.

However, a military source soon denied that Gen Fuda had been named chief-of-staff, and pointed out that he had just been asked to supervise the financial affairs committee.

From right to wrong

Mistakes in reporting and verification have appeared in other state media outlets.

On Thursday, the TV news station, Nile News, broadcast a report about the ruling issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court on the law that governed the recent parliamentary elections.

In the report, the channel quoted a judicial source as saying that, as per the ruling, all seats in the lower house, the People's Assembly, were considered void.

But later Nile News corrected its earlier version, quoting the same source as saying that only one third of the seats - those designated for individual candidates, rather than parties - had to be contested in fresh elections.

However, the earlier account by the station was the correct one, as the Supreme Constitutional Court had ruled that the entire People's Assembly had to be dissolved.

The lack of verification of news comes as part of a greater problem in the performance of state media, which has going up and down since the revolution.


After the overthrow of Mubarak, state media tried to restore respect and credibility, much of which it lost under the former regime when it was tainted with the image of a tool for promoting government policies.

Newspapers changed their editorial lines to be pro-revolution, and TV stations broadened their topics of discussion, allowed sharp criticism of the ruling military establishment, and interviewed guests including members of formerly banned political groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, state TV, for example, was accused of incitement of violence against the Coptic Christian community in October 2011 when clashes between the army and Coptic protesters left at least 22 people dead. Critics said Channel 1's reports had made it seem as if the army was under attack.

However, the coverage by state media, particularly of television channels, of the parliamentary and presidential elections was largely balanced and transparent.

This oscillating pattern in the performance of the state media apparatus comes at a time when the affiliated outlets continue to operate with essentially the same staff.

After the revolution, several calls went out to purge state media, and the pressure by protesters has resulted in the replacement of some top managers.

The ministry of information was abolished in February 2011 but reinstated in July after what the government said was a state of "chaos" in Egyptian media.

A genuine restructuring of the state media apparatus, with an emphasis on quality, independence and professionalism, appears to be the solution needed to put it on the right track.

BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring,click here