Lessons from the Al-Dostour crisis

Looking back at the Al-Dostour newspaper crisis, which began in October, one wonders what lessons we can draw for Egyptian privately-owned media. Egypt’s experience with private media is relatively new. Though it has been successful, it is also far from complete.

For one thing, there are no legal mechanisms to uphold the independence of private media outlets in times of crisis. Egyptian law has no such safeguards as protecting private media has never been a priority for the regime. As a result, private newspapers and TV stations become vulnerable to editorial interference from both the state and owners, especially in sensitive times like during the lead up to an election. Thus, we now see the state, which previously celebrated the growth of private media as a sign of democracy, actively suppressing press freedom.  

Opposition newspaper Al-Dostour’s management shuffle last month is a perfect example. The dispute between the new owners and the old editorial team–who have been exchanging accusations over the reasons for the dismissal of  former chief editor Ibrahim Eissa–suggests that personal interests were at play in the decision to re-structure the paper. According to the new owner, Reda Edward, Eissa was sacked due to the old paper’s lack of moral discipline and use of “gross language”. If that was this case, why didn’t Edward just publish his own mouthpiece, a paper that reflects his convictions and orientations, instead of purchasing Al-Dostour and giving it a moral makeover.

The lack of professionalism and absence of clear-cut rules in the world of media are what give owners license to behave in such a fashion. As things stand, owners believe they can do as they please with their newspapers, including bringing them down if they so chose. Whatever Edward claims does not, however, justify his interference in editorial policy.

Will this standoff then convince us that it has become imperative to establish firm rules to protect private media outlets from both owners state?

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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