EGYPT: TV 25 chronicles post-revolution, bucks censorship, strives for balance
Egypt is seeing a post-revolution media renaissance, including in print and on television stations. The growth of coverage has posed a challenge to the transitional military government, which activists and some media have accused of slipping back into the censorship of the previous regime.
Among the upstarts is TV 25, a 24-hour satellite news channel with more than a dozen original programs. The channel is staffed by about 42 newly-trained journalists charged with covering the aftermath of the Jan. 25 revolution from the perspective of the people, not the oft-quoted experts seen on mainstream television.
The station has a Facebook following, broadcasts and streams live video online from the sleek offices of Video Cairo, a 40-year-old satellite broadcast network overlooking the Nile. One day last week, the TV 25 news broadcast— delivered by a young presenter in short sleeves and jeans — included reports about the latest sectarian tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians attempting to build churches, a strike by electrical workers and spending limits for the presidential election next fall.
"Our main rule is to be a reflection of the street," one young anchor said. "We are fed up with experts who didn’t expect the revolution."
Another host, Miral Brinjy, 26, is a blogger who now has her own social media show, "Hashtag." She has reported about recent government censorship, including the arrest and sentencing of an Egyptian blogger to three years in prison after a military trial.
Brinji said it is a risky time for media to take a stand against the transitional military government, given that free speech is not yet enshrined in the constitution.
“They will try to intimidate us and other stations,” she said as she say developing the day’s show with a few other reporters in one of the station’s offices.
"It’s a tug of war," said Seif Khirfan, 29, a trauma surgeon who still treats patients part-time while hosting his own local reporting and man-on-the-street opinion show, "Bank of Ideas."
The station was founded in March by Mohamed Gohar, a veteran NBC cameraman who worked with Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters, as an off-shoot of Video Cairo, which partners with Reuters.
Gohar expects TV 25 to remain objective, without agreeing to government censorship.
"We decided from the beginning we had a duty to expose what these young people are doing," he said. "We investigate the revolution, their requests and what is being implemented."
Egypt’s interim government has stirred controversy in recent weeks by questioning journalists and issuing warning letters cautioning media, including TV 25, to pre-screen reports about the military.
Gohar said the military government has not interfered with editorial decisions at TV 25. But he said he has urged the staff to make an effort to seek responses from the government in order to craft more balanced stories. This is a switch from before the revolution, he said, when independent media proved themselves by attacking Mubarak and his regime.
"We criticize the government’s political decisions, but not the army," Gohar said.
For instance, when Khirfan submitted a story about a soldier making allegations of misconduct against the army in Tahrir Square, TV 25 obscured his face and sought reaction from the army.
"Professionalism protects you" from censorship, Gohar said.
At the same time, Gohar said he wants TV 25 reporters to stay a little green and unpolished to preserve the station’s tone. Their earnest commitment to establishing democracy through a free press will attract a loyal following among viewers, he said, despite competition from a growing list of stations, many owned by Persian Gulf businessmen with deep pockets and a stable of advertisers.
"We look sloppy on the screen, because this is the style of the square," he said. "But we go by ethics and we don’t call people names. This is how we get respect."
— Molly hennessy-Fiske in Cairo
Photos: Top: Mohamed Gohar supervises a news bulletin broadcast for TV 25, with Video Cairo in the background. Credit: Molly Hennessy-Fiske.
Bottom: TV 25 crew adjusts the afternoon news bulletin, whcih included news about sectarian conflicts and the upcoming presidential election. Credit: Molly Hennessy-Fiske.