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In Egypt, Media Professionals Turn to Social Media in Protest

October 14, 2011

State television's coverage of the Coptic-Military clashes have been condemned even by state TV journalists

One of the more interesting uses of social media is by media professionals to add to, or distance themselves from, their professional output.

During the recent clashes between the military and Copts, several Egyptian state media figures used social media to offer critical commentary on the actions of their own media outlets.

State television’s record was pretty poor. A line of text at the bottom of the screen read “Three martyrs and dozens of injured victims in the army because of the attacks of the Coptic protestors” ran all night Oct. 9 (once events had calmed, the official toll was 23 Copts dead, two army personnel).

One television reporter called on people to take to the streets in order to protect the army forces. She told viewers that soldiers were being shot by protesters, and that there were many casualties among the soldiers.

By midnight, many of the employees of state television had learned that the alternative version of the what was happening in the streets: 21 Copts were killed under the wheels of the army tanks and through the bullets of snipers.

Some television staff claimed to have seen these incidents with their own eyes. However, they published their testimonies using social media rather than using the official television media where they work.

Producer Tagreed ad-Desouki wrote on her Facebook: “I reject the coverage by Egyptian state television as it incites sectarianism. I also condemn anyone who took part in it.”

Newsreader Mahmoud Youssef tweeted his statement denying any responsibility for the coverage of the protests and clashes by the state channel. “Although I work as a host for the Egyptian television, I’m innocent of what the Egyptian television is broadcasting,” he said.

Channel 2 hostess Dina Rasmy said in a tweet that she was ashamed that she was working in such a disgusting place.

She offered a longer account on her Facebook page, adding that “Egyptian television has called for a civil war between Muslims and Christians. The Egyptian television has proven it is the slave of whoever is ruling.”

And anchorman Mohamed El Maghrebi refused all responsibility for state TV’s coverage of the clashes in a statement on his Facebook page

On the “citizen journalism” side of things, TV hostess Riham Sallem criticized wrote an op-ed for the Free Maspero web site in which she criticized the performance of state television.

Other television personnel such as Dalia Hassouna and Rania al-Touni also posted angry denials of responsibility for the coverage, as did a large group of staff members at the Nile for News channel.

We’ve seen this in the U.S. with Twitter: the New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristoff uses it for commentary/analysis and Ben Wedeman uses Twitter to offer critical and supplemental comments.

It is a commonplace among media studies folks to say that new media don’t replace old media, they supplement them, creating new niches for themselves and their consumers. But this use of social media as an alternate voice by media producers who want to reject or speak outside of the strictures of their regular genres is something particularly interesting.

Is this citizen journalism by media professionals?

This account is based primarily on two Oct. 11 stories in non-Egyptian Arabic newspapers, one entitled “Political forces criticize coverage of events by Egyptian television…” by Mohammad Abdo and Ahmad Youssef in the Saudi-owned London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, and one titled “Egyptian Channels Burying their Heads in the Sand” by Mohammad Abdel-Rahman in the Lebanese pro-government Al-Akhbar daily. Additional material came from the Egyptian Chronicles blog.

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