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Monday, 2 April 2018

Drama between Al Masry Al Youm and the Supreme Media Council unfolds on the airwaves

The unfolding drama between Al Masry Al Youm and the Supreme Media Council was the highlight of an evening nearly devoid of economy and business stories.

The flap, which is dominating headlines on Egypt at home and abroad, kicked off after our friends at the daily newspaper Al Masry Al Youm were slapped with a EGP 150,000 fine by the Supreme Media Council on Sunday. The newspaper had gotten into hot water for publishing a story on the front page of its Thursday print edition alleging coercion by government officials to bolster turnout during the presidential elections. The newspaper had retracted the story, but not before the National Elections Authority (NEA) filed a complaint with the Supreme Media Council. The Council also ordered an investigation by the Press Syndicate of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, according to a copy of the order published by Ahram Gate.

The NEA had also filed a complaint against the New York Times, according to the State Information Service (SIS). The NYT had published an article last week alleging that the government had engaged in vote buying. The Supreme Media Council then fined news website Masr Al Arabia EGP 50,000 for running a story on the NYT article, Al Shorouk reports. Reuters had retracted a similar story over the weekend after the SIS raised objections with the news agency. SIS then suggested it would “summon” foreign journalists over their coverage of the presidential elections, Peter Stubley writes for The Independent. “Any foreign article written in a non-professional manner regarding the presidential election will receive a direct and clear response," said SIS head of operations Mohammed Imam. The story is getting significant traction with the foreign press, including from the AP.

On the airwaves last night, Supreme Media Council head Makram Mohamed Ahmed slammed Al Masry Al Youm for insinuating that the state was buying votes and said that the newspaper’s “unprofessional” coverage comes at a “sensitive time” for Egypt. Ahmed claimed that a representative from the newspaper acknowledged that the article in question lacked professionalism and offered an apology. He also defended Beheira’s governor’s promise to provide services such as new sewage systems to incentivize voters, saying that this was not a bribe and is a completely orthodox rallying technique used all around the world (watch, runtime: 7:24).

Plot twist: AMAY’s Editor-in-Chief Mohamed El Sayed Saleh said that, as far as he is concerned, the council did not meet with anybody who can speak on the newspaper’s behalf. Saleh continued to defend his publication and said that it had pointed to the government’s “positive efforts” to rally voters (watch, runtime: 6:32).

Journalists’ Syndicate head Abdel Mohsen Salama was far less impassioned in his defense of the newspaper, telling Hona Al Asema’s Lamees Al Hadidi that the whole issue is due to a difference in interpretation and that all sides are working to resolve the misunderstanding (watch, runtime: 6:55).

The flap over press freedom comes as Arab League election observers praised the presidential election and gave it a clean bill of health, according to SIS. It noted insignificant “irregularities” such as banners remaining up during the campaign quiet period and a lack of privacy at the ballot box, mission head Haifa Abu Ghazala told reporters yesterday, according to Al Shorouk.

Unable to stay away from elections coverage for one evening, Lamees took the time to hail the estimated voter turnout rate of 41.3% as “historic” and “unexpected” (watch, runtime: 7:16). However, she noted that the number of invalid votes is the highest ever in any Egyptian election and should not be ignored, and that the government should listen to opposition voices (watch, runtime: 2:28).

Al Wafd Party is looking to avoid the same mistake as this year and plans to announce a candidate for the 2022 presidential elections by 2021, party member Tarek Tohamy said (watch, runtime: 6:00).

Now that the presidential poll is out of the way, what about municipal elections? Kol Youm’s Amr Adib spent a chunk of his evening fretting about the delay in holding municipal elections — which he sees as the solution for issues like garbage collection —and begged Parliament to pass the Local Administration Act as soon as possible (watch, runtime: 7:12). The law was finalized last year but is pending final sign-off, MP Ahmed Al Segini told Adib (watch, runtime: 7:12).

The Administrative Court’s ruling against ride-hailing apps Uber and Careem has already resulted in a downturn in business, Careem Egypt CEO Rami Kato told Yahduth fi Masr’s Sherif Amer. He noted that the company had been in talks with the government for over a year to legalize its operations. House Transport Committee secretary-general Mohamed Zeineldin continued to defend the Ride-Hailing Apps Act as an attempt to legalize the apps’ operations while protecting white taxi drivers’ jobs (watch, runtime: 2:34).

Meanwhile, the market appears to be having mixed feelings about the government’s decision to allow imports of used electric cars. The Federation of Egyptian Industries’ Hamdy Abdel Aziz believes the move is a step in the right direction, telling Al Masry Al Youm that in addition to the environmental benefits, it will also create a market for electric cars in Egypt, which could make open up new avenues for investment and trade in the auto industry. He also said it would help the government in its goals to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and eventually bring its energy bill down. The Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce said the decision was too hasty and did not consider the market’s readiness to accommodate electric cars, which are generally steeper in price than fuel-operated autos. General Motors’ Shady El Safty also believes the country’s infrastructure is not ready to accommodate the move, and called on Trade and Industry Minister Tarek Kabil to postpone electric car imports until the market is brought up to speed (watch, runtime: 6:02).

Consumer Protection Agency head Atef Yacoub is still on his tirade against cement and steel manufacturers, saying that recent price hikes on the commodities are “unjustified” particularly in light of reduced production. The Association of Citizens Against High Prices is throwing its weight behind Yacoub and has filed a separate complaint on the issue with the Egyptian Competition Authority, association head Mahmoud El Askalany told Masaa DMC’s Eman El Hosary. Meanwhile, MP Mohamed Badrawy said that the spike in cement prices is likely due to two cement factories in North Sinai halting operations, claiming that the problem is being resolved and prices are edging back down (watch, runtime: 13:32).

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