17 October 2010
I applaud the Supreme Judiciary Council’s (SJC) recent decision to ban reporting on or broadcast of court proceedings on any media channel. The SJC also banned the disclosure of details of investigations and trials before a ruling is issued. The initiative is an attempt to rebuild public confidence in the fairness of the Egyptian judiciary, an issue which has too long been placed on hold. It also serves to avoid any mix-up inflicted upon public opinion because of the divergent views of the media regarding a trial.
The SJC’s decision is timely—if not a bit late. It is intended to put an end to the media rush to fabricate hot headlines and print unsubstantiated material on cases which preoccupy the public. Auspiciously, an absolute endorsement by the Supreme Press Council followed the SJC’s decision. The move reflects an unconditional conviction of the necessity to put an end to unprofessional, irresponsible media reporting which, more often than not, tamper with the details in order to attract viewers or readers, with no consideration to transparency or to the journalistic code of honour.
The role played by the media in manipulating public opinion, under the pretext of ‘media coverage’, is indeed shocking. The media begins with news of the incident itself, followed by extensive coverage of all that relates to the incident and the persons involved. The coverage in itself is nothing to complain about, quite the contrary. The problem arises when the media decides to speculate on the motives of the actors and, accordingly, side with one of the parties involved. This in itself oversteps the investigative authorities’ role, and I consider it a delusion of public opinion.
It has become near impossible for security to impose any discipline or to control the frantic crowds of media persons who gather inside and outside courtrooms during trials. Courtrooms, packed with lights and cameras, photographers, cameramen, technicians and interviewers, become more like film shooting locations than respectful courtrooms. Media representatives compete in interviewing relatives and lawyers of the defendants—if not the defendants and the judicial pane themselves, disturbing thus the judicial procedure.
More often than not, the media almost overrules justice when it gives itself the right to analyse cases and publish its guesses on prospective rulings. It prints biased commentaries and speculations before the ruling or the legal reasoning behind it are issued by the court.
Examples of the media’s insatiable, reckless appetite for scandal abound. Can anyone forget the destructive role the media played in the case of the murder of the two young women, famously known by their first names Heba and Nadine, in the west Cairo satellite town of 6 October? The media published detailed speculations of the incident, as well as accusations, which all proved imaginary. The SJC at the time issued a bold report denouncing the media trifling with the case, describing it as a “professional crime which violates the journalist code of honour”. More current is the famous case of the murder of the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim, of which the Egyptian business tycoon Hisham Talaat Mustafa and the security man Mohsen al-Sukkary are both accused. Then there is the case of the theft of Vincent van Gogh’s Poppy Flowers from the Mahmoud Khalil’s museum in Giza, in which Mohsen Shaalan deputy of the Culture Ministry is charged. In both cases, the media played a substantial role in manipulating coverage of the court proceedings, dragging public opinion towards a specific stance. I pity the judges the pressures exerted by the media and public opinion, and the superhuman effort required to remain impartial and rule with fairness.
What lately captured my attention and left me in shock was the authorisation given by the prosecutor-general to Al-Ahram, Cairo’s topmost daily—to publish the details of the official investigation with a TV announcer who was lately charged with killing his wife. I was astounded to read the details of the investigations, not to mention the dreadful details of the crime itself and all that led to it, not as smuggled material printed in some yellow paper but in the State’s official paper.
Again, I do back the SJC’s long overdue decision and look forward to the day when newspapers would only provide their readers with concise accounts of court proceedings, as in other respectful, disciplined communities.