Over the weekend, the Egyptian foreign ministry issued a guide to foreign journalists, asking them to reconsider how they refer to certain groups that carry out terror attacks in the country. Alex Ortiz, a producer for CBS News based in Cairo, tweeted one page of the memo that caught his eye:
The memo appears to be designed to stop foreign news media describing terror attacks in a way that shows any link to Islam – a line of reasoning many others follow around the world. For example, critics have long suggested that the referring to the extremist group based in Syria and Iraq as the "Islamic State" defers on them a religious legitimacy that they don't deserve. This is a mainstream, global debate: Just late last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron asked the BBC to stop referring to the group as the "Islamic State" (the BBC refused).
However, the local context of Egypt's suggestion has some journalists worried. The memo was handed out at a news conference on Saturday, just a few days after a wave of Islamic State-linked attacks in Sinai that left an unclear number of Egyptian soldiers dead.
According to CNN's Sarah Sirgany, the Egyptian foreign ministry used the press conference to pass on "observations" of the foreign ministry's coverage of the Sinai attacks. One clear issue appears to have been the death toll, with the military saying that at least 17 soldiers had died, while the international press, including The Washington Post, reporting numbers as high as 70.
A newly drafted anti-terrorism law, drawn up after the Sinai attacks and awaiting the approval of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, may actually make reporting figures that contradict official statements a crime if "intent" or "malice" can be proven. The law stipulates a minimum two-year sentence for the crime.
To critics, the law and the memo are examples of how restrictive it's becoming to report objectively in Egypt. “We are faced with an article that pushes the media towards Goebbels’ media – the media of one opinion and one narrative,” Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told the Guardian. “It is against the freedom of press, especially press that is critical and professional.”
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