Rallying against a “Fanatic media…a national catastrophe” was the objective of the peaceful demonstration organised last Sunday by the National Committee for Confronting Sectarian Violence (NCCSV). The demonstration was held in front of the Television and Radio Union building which overlooks one of the most majestic scenes of the Nile flowing through Cairo.
The demonstrators strongly protested against the media handling of so-called sectarian events. They criticised what they saw as the media’s systematic misleading of public opinion in cases of violence against Copts, the most recent of which was the attack against the Copts of Reefiya in the North Coast town of Marsa Matrouh. The media, the NCCSV observes, persists in branding the attacks as “sectarian violence” or “sectarian incidents”, thereby implying the violence was reciprocal and not—as the facts invariably show—a blatant attack against the Copts. Victim and offender are portrayed as equally to blame, and equally to be compensated for losses. The media also persists in ignoring Coptic injuries and losses, and invariably attempts to justify the criminal attacks by finding excuses for the attackers, be it an unsubstantiated rumour, an individual argument, or any act that ought to be handled by the law not by a mob taking the law in their own hands. It almost never cites the real volume of the victims’ losses, does not talk to the victims and, when it does, more often than not it refrains from printing what they said.
The protest was the first ever to be held in front of the TV building. The security forces cordoned off the area where the demonstrators—there were some 50 of them—stood with their banners. The security men tried to seize the journalists’ cameras, and prevented the demonstrators from going into the building to meet the media minister to hand him a file of the facts behind the recent Matrouh incidents, complete with video and photos.
The media minister did not respond to the demonstrators’ demand for a meeting with him even though he had been informed of the demonstration beforehand. “This act confirms that the media ministry is not interested in adequately tackling the sectarian file,” NCCSV member Emad Attiya said. The demonstrators then headed to the Journalists’ Syndicate where they met Yehia Qallash, member of the syndicate board.
The following day a NCCSV delegation which included activists Bahiga Hassan, Nagy Artin, Salah Adly and Farid Zahran, met the head of the Journalists Syndicate Makram Mohamed Ahmed who very obviously realised the gravity of the situation. Mr Ahmed discussed with the delegation possible methods that can be adopted by the media to counter the culture of sectarian violence instead of promoting thoughts that defend and justify it. Mr Ahmed explained that the syndicate had no control over the material published, nevertheless he confirmed that it had to take a positive stance. “I am asking the NCCSV and the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (MARED) movement to join forces with the Journalists Syndicate to organise workshops for journalists who deal with the sectarian file in order to use a balanced, credible approach. He said that immediate action should be taken; the workshop should be held within some 10 days of the Monday meeting. “This matter is among my priorities”, he concluded.
Yet, true to form, the media inadequately reported the NCCSV move. The Masrawi news site said: “The NCCSV demonstrated in front of the TV building to protest against the disregard of the Egyptian media of the Muslim Coptic riots in Matrouh.” Again, it was “Muslim Coptic riots” instead of the actual “attack against Copts”.