Media coverage of election biased, experts say

Media coverage of election biased, experts say

EGYPT: Media coverage of election biased, experts say

CAIRO, 9 November (IRIN) – As the first of three rounds of voting in Egypt’s parliamentary election got underway on Wednesday, media coverage has been biased in favour of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), human rights experts said.

"On television, there is little real debate, indifference towards other parties’ policies and minimal air time for independent candidates," said Gamal Abdel-Gawwad, of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Voting for candidates for 444 seats in the national assembly will take place over a period of six weeks.

Presenting the findings of a study by the Cairo Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), Abdel-Gawwad accused state media, both broadcast and print, of under-representing opposition voices.

Abdel-Gawwad pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, which "constitutes the strongest and most numerous political force operating in Egypt today," had been given almost no coverage at all.

He added that even many independent news organisations had failed to give the brotherhood significant exposure, despite the group’s unarguable grassroots significance.

"This is unacceptable," said Abdel-Gawwad.

Officials at government-run media agencies, meanwhile, disputed the CCHR’s findings.

"This is the first time a party such as the Muslim Brotherhood has received any coverage at all," said Mamdouh Ramadan, editor at government-run daily Al-Gomhouriya. "The group was featured both on television and in the news pages of the state-run and independent press."

He added, "There’s been a vast increase in the balance of coverage in comparison to previous elections."

Nevertheless, the CCHR report alleged that print media in particular had provided its readership with little, if any, balance, and accused the state-run press of acting as a "political mouthpiece for the ruling party."

Abdel-Gawwad noted, for example, that Egypt’s most highly-circulated daily, Al-Ahram, had dedicated "about 95 percent" of its coverage to the various campaigns of NDP candidates. He went on to single out recently launched independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm as one of the few impartial local newspapers, saying that – unlike its state counterparts – Al-Masry had given opposition campaigns significant treatment.

Abdel-Gawwad added, however, that there was little evidence of pressure on journalists by security forces to report positively on the ruling party, as had been the case in previous legislative elections.

Mahmoud Ali, of the Cairo-based Organisation for the Development of Democracy, pointed out that another problem relating to the election coverage was the abuse of an electoral law prohibiting candidates from spending more than US $12,000 on campaigns.

Adding that this ceiling was unrealistic, given the $17,000 price tag on a single-page ad in Egypt’s major broadsheets, Ali said: "NDP candidates, who often have direct access to state funds, enjoy a clear advantage over other nominees."

According to Abdel-Gawwad, "the possibility of free media space is sacrificed to the politics of funding".