Problems on hold
At a time when readership of newspapers in Egypt has declined to the point of the common saying: “no one reads papers any more”, social media and TV talk shows have become prime sources of news and opinion. These offer all the sensationalism and fiery headlines to topics that perpetually keep people emotionally charged. Sadly, very few readers or viewers care to delve into the details of any topic or to check the information they are being fed; not even to question or weigh its credibility. The issue is not new; I broached it before, but find myself again honour-bound to warn my readers of falling prey to misinformation propagated by media channels or social networking websites; Facebook tops the list. It does not help that such material is then fanned out to reach a huge public through ‘likes’ and emotional, heated, groundless comments.
I might make excuse for individuals who have not sufficient awareness or education to check any information they receive. But how can I excuse others who are supposedly well-educated and enlightened, or those whose work in the media makes it their responsibility to verify news before propagating it? It looks as though the principle of “credibility is the title of the truth” has now become outdated and replaced with “agitation and sensationalism are the title of the truth”.
The recent incident of the the release on bail of a police officer charged with torturing a man to death in a police station brought to the fore the issue of misinformation and sensationalism. The story goes back to last November when 54-year-old Magdy Makeen, a Copt who earned his living by selling fish on a horse cart, accidentally hit a police car in which the police officer Karim Magdy was riding. A verbal fight erupted between Captain Magdy and Makeen who was then caught and taken, together with two other men who had been with him on the horse cart, to al-Ameeriya police station. There, they were brutally beaten; Makeen was cruelly tortured, and died. Magdy and three other policemen were caught and prosecuted, since the official after-death report on Makeen, medical examination of the two other men who had been with him, witness testimonies, and the CCTV cameras at al-Ameeriya police station all proved the beating and torture incident. Magdy and the other defendants were detained and the case was referred to Criminal Court. The defendants appealed the decision to detain them since last November, following which the court decided to release them on bail; EGP5,000 for every senior officer and EGP3,000 for each junior officer. The case is still in court; none of the defendants has been acquitted.
These are the facts. How did they get into the tabloids and social media? Posts and headlines screamed: “Police officer released after charges of torturing fish vendor to death”; no details, no explanation. The fiery headline went viral on social media, prompting comments and condemnations along the line: “Sure! The victim is Copt, so of no value”, “A police officers crime must of course be covered up”, “The officer tortured the poor street vendor, and when he died accused him of trafficking drugs”. On and on went the wrathful comments until the truth was completely lost; no one bothered to so much as notice that it was ‘release on bail’ of the police officer, not ‘acquittal’. It reached the point where rumours were woven into false stories compiled out of the comments.
Watani, for its part, published the truth of the matter, with a view to containing emotions that had run out of control. We were keen to set matters straight and stress that this was no acquittal; the case is still in court and justice should be served.
This is not the first—and will definitely not be the last— time when tabloids and social media throttle the truth. I guess that if I use this editorial space on a weekly basis to analyse and refute the erroneous material propated I will no longer have any time or space to tackle other issues.
19 February 2017