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EGYPT Egypt: Fears over alleged plan to control media

New government threatens steps to halt “media chaos”

By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent
August 9, 2012

Cairo: The selection of an Islamist to be the information minister in the newly formed Egyptian government has fuelled fears among the country’s liberals that President Mohammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood is bent on controlling the media.

In a last-minute picking, Salah Abdel Maqsud, a journalist who is a leading member of the influential Brotherhood, was appointed as information minister, who controls the public radio and television services in Egypt. His choice came days after Mursi has sued two media outlets over alleged false reporting and slander.

“The media was not fair in dealing with the Brotherhood. But this does not justify for the group, having reached power, to resort to the same methods manipulated by the former regime (of Hosni Mubarak) to control the media,” said Yasser Abdel Aziz, a media expert.

Banned and oppressed under Mubarak, the Brotherhood gained more half of parliamentary seats in elections held earlier this year. Officials in the group have recently voiced anger with the media, accusing it of tarnishing the Brotherhood’s image and Mursi’s, Egypt’s first elected Islamist president.

“I can see a complete plan by the Brotherhood to control the Egyptian media,” said Abdel Aziz. “The first step in this plan is to appoint loyal editors of national newspapers. The second has been taken by appointing an Islamist information minister,” he added.

The Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, is in the process of replacing editors of the sate-owned publications.

The council, the nominal owner of these publications, has said the reshuffle is part of a plan to reform the state-owned media and make it more efficient.

In his first statement after becoming an information minister, Abdel Maqsud promised to revamp radio and television services to be a “genuine expression of the people and their aspirations” not a “mouth of the government”.

Abdel Maqsud, a former member of the press syndicate board, has replaced in the post Ahmad Anis, a former army general.

“I am surprised and even stunned that Abdul Maqsud has been chosen for this post,” said Youssef Al Qaeed, a prominent writer and liberal. “This appointment, it seems, was the result of a deal between the military and the Brotherhood,” he added.

The new cabinet comprises eight ministers retained from the pervious army-backed government, including defence minister Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi, who heads the powerful Supreme Council of the Armed Forces; and Foreign Minister Mohammad Kamel.

In its maiden meeting on Saturday, the new government said it would take measures to stop what it called “media chaos”, a threat seen by observers as signaling intention to gag the anti-Islamist media.

“The government will revoke the licences of satellite television channels that will not abide by the media code of ethics,” Investment Minister Usama Saleh said Sunday.

He added that the aim is to reassure potential investors about the situation in Egypt, which has suffered security breakdown in the wake of a revolt that unseated Mubarak more than a year ago.

“Foreign investors’ trust is affected by rumours and false reports relayed in the media,” added the minister.

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