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Media in Egypt stoke the heat _ and now feel it

Wednesday - 8/21/2013, 1:44am  ET

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 file photo, Ahmed Gomaa, a photographer working for the Associated Press, center, is seen in a hospital in Cairo, Egypt, after being beaten by Egyptian police while covering clashes between protesters and security forces, as crowds swelled in nearby Tahrir Square demanding Mohammed Morsi revoke edicts granting himself near autocratic power. An Egyptian journalist shot to death by soldiers at a checkpoint raises to five the number of journalists killed in the past week across Egypt. There has also been an dramatic escalation of harassment of foreign journalists, ignited by the perception that the Western media’s coverage of events in Egypt has been biased against the military. Local media have also fueled tensions, acting less as watchdogs of government and instead building support for the new military-backed government. Lost is truth of how events unfolded, making accuracy the latest casualty of the turmoil. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad, File)

AYA BATRAWY
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- The military says Tamer Abdel-Raouf sped through a military checkpoint, ignoring soldiers' warning shots. A colleague who was with him in the car says he obeyed the soldiers' orders to turn back, but they opened fire anyway as he was making a U-turn.

The result was the same: The reporter for the flagship Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on Monday became the fifth journalist to die as the media are swept up in the bloodshed roiling Egypt.

Television and radio stations air patriotic songs while a slew of talk show hosts glorify the military that seized power and denounce the Islamist government it overthrew.

It's a sharp turnaround from the challenges these same journalists faced under President Mohammed Morsi's rule, when reporters were sued by Islamist lawyers for "insulting the president." After his ouster, his Muslim Brothehrood group openly blacklisted 50 of those media personalities.

Now journalists are facing deadlier perils.

A week ago Mick Deane of the British TV broadcaster Sky News and two Egyptian journalists were fatally shot while covering the violent breakup of protest camps in Cairo. Other foreign journalists are also feeling the pressure, complaining that security forces fail to respect the exemption that allows them on the streets after nighttime curfew.

The tense media landscape is increasingly mirroring the venomous atmosphere, where people are fractured along political lines.

"The whole media scene has been extremely polarized and it's a reflection of the polarization in society," said Rasha Abdulla, a media professor at the American University in Cairo.

TV presenters have sung the national anthem on TV and openly cried tears of joy when Morsi was ousted seven weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Morsi's Brotherhood group has waged its own media campaign online and through its spokesmen on social media websites after channels sympathetic to the group were shuttered last month.

In one, a spokesman posted a picture of dead Syrian children online, claiming they were Egyptian kids killed by police. In clashes that the Health Ministry said killed around 80 people, the Brotherhood's emails to reporters initially claimed 200 were killed. At another point it claimed the overall death toll was more than triple what the Health Ministry was reporting.

The discrepancies come from both sides, as the death of reporter Abdel-Raouf demonstrates.

A statement by the army said that he sped through a checkpoint after curfew and soldiers fired warning shots.

However, Hamed al-Barbari of Al-Gomhuria newspaper told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists that the two, riding in the car together, were turned back by soldiers at the checkpoint. He said the soldiers then fired at the car as they were making a U-turn, shooting Abdel-Raouf in the head.

Abdel-Raouf had been critical of Morsi's ouster on Facebook and other social media, though the CPJ said there was no evidence that he was targeted for his views.

Western journalists have come under attack from angry citizens. CPJ reported that during violent protests Saturday, Annabell Van Den Berghe, a freelance journalist with the Belgian public broadcaster VRT, and crew were confronted by people who accused them of being American spies and said Western media were biased. They beat a crew member but did not harm the journalists.

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, particularly its channel dedicated to live coverage of events in Egypt, has been the only major Arabic-language outlet for the Muslim Brotherhood's views. Its Cairo office was raided by security forces last week and two of its journalists detained.

A number of its presenters quit around the time of Morsi's ouster, saying the station had misled viewers. The network counters that it is covering all events in Egypt with "balance and integrity"

Three Turkish journalists, Metin Turan and Heba Zakaria were arrested over the weekend and Tahir Osman Hamde was reported arrested on Tuesday. It's not clear whether any have been released.

Senior Egyptian officials have taken to critiquing the foreign media.

The State Information Service released a statement saying some media outlets are "falling short of describing events of June 30 as an expression of popular will."

Meeting foreign journalists recently, interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy expressed his frustration.

"You have a problem of your profession frankly," he said, saying the limited space to report complex issues makes the journalists "very superficial in what you are doing." ''And frankly," he added, "many of you have covered the news incorrectly and unfairly."

Adel Iskandar, author of "Egypt in Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution," said that under the rule of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, "The military was untouchable and invisible" and that "the media, both state and private, were obedient because they were censored.

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