CO114 Greg Shupak on Reporting the Conflict

Greg Shupak has a PhD in Literary Studies and teaches Media Studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto. He regularly writes analysis of politics and media for outlets including Electronic Intifada, In These Times, Jacobin, and the website Fairness and accuracy in reporting.

His book, The Wrong Story Palestine, Israel, And The Media is available from OR Books.

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That’s audio from an Egyptian news channel called Extra news, it’s in Arabic of course. That clip is 17 seconds long, and it’s a news item that, in Arabic, contained 42 words. As I understand it, it was broadcast only once on Extra News, the exact same number of times that it was broadcast on all other Egyptian news channels.

And with the exact same text. To the word. And, every Egyptian newspaper ran the same story, 42 words long, word for word.

The news was about the death of Mohamed Morsi. Morsi was the first, and so far only, democratically elected president of Egypt. He won the 2012 elections after the Tahrir Square protests, part of the Arab Spring uprising and that swept through the Arab world nearly a decade ago now.

The Arab Spring was a protest by a mixture of people, democrats, liberals, economic reformists, and Islamists who were against the corrupt elites that ruled – and in many cases still rule – the Arab countries. The Egyptian army, the real controlling force in the country, saw the way things were going, deposed the longtime dictator, and allowed largely free elections.

They didn’t go to script. Morsi led the Freedom and Justice Party, and organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The party weren’t Islamic extremists, they confirmed that they were happy for women and Egypt’s minority Christians to serve in government, but they were by no means what people who wanted Egypt to move towards the western democratic model would have hoped for, although he seemed to be firmly against corruption.

He lasted a year. The Army, which controls a huge chunk of the Egyptian economy, with zero oversight, staged a coup, arrested Morsi, and have imprisoned him ever since, on a whole series of charges. He was on trial last month for those charges when he died, apparently of a heart attack.

This is how the Egyptian media announced his death. They all carried an identical 42-word announcement that named him and said he had died, and nothing more, they didn’t even refer to the fact that he had been president, much less on trial by the military.

Every single news outlet waited three days, long after the death had been reported internationally, before they ran the story, and they all used the same text. With one exception – this clip from Extra News. Can you hear a familiar word at the end?

That’s right. The word is Samsung. The extra sentence that this newsreader added on the end translates as ‘sent from a Samsung device’ – like the default signature on the phone of people who aren’t smart enough to not make their every email into an ad for an electronics company.

And like the TV news stations that aren’t even smart enough to copy and paste the right text they get telling them what news to broadcast.

Aren’t we lucky to live in a democracy where the TV news producers are smarter than that.

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