The Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) outlined 10 media regulations for covering the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The first rule stated that media outlets must be careful to differentiate between news content, opinion and advertisement.
However, according to Amgad Fathy, a member of the SEC’s media committee and a representative of the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), several TV channels are failing to properly abide by the rules.
The SEC set 28 September as the date for electoral campaigns to officially begin. “Based on our observations, several TV channels began interviewing candidates prior to the scheduled date, and in several instances we noticed that media content was mixed with promotion,” Fathy told Daily News Egypt.
The SEC had already warned several leading satellite TV channels of violations they committed since 20 September. According to a SEC statement published by Al-Ahram newspaper on 3 October, the most popular channels included CBC, Dream 2, Al-Faraeen, Al-Hayat and Sada El-Balad.
The statement added that channels were required to respond to the SEC’s warnings “within 24 hours”. Nonetheless, nearly one week later, SEC spokesperson Omar Marwan announced in a press conference that the number of channels committing violations increased to 10.
“We have strict procedures at the committee, and penalties against legal violations can reach a point where the channel is banned from covering the elections,” Fathy explained, adding that, in general, most channels responded to clarify their positions or “apologise”.
However, some infringements cannot be controlled when a programme is hosted on air, especially when telephone interviews during the show include candidates of the second electoral phase, for whom promotion campaigns are scheduled to begin in November.
On her “Hona Al-Asima” show aired Saturday night, CBC TV host Lamees El-Hadeedy repeatedly warned callers “this could count as a violation and we do not want the SEC on to us.” El-Hadeedy tried to limit legal violations during her interview with candidates of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP) and phone calls she received during the show.
However, in one instant, she had asked a citizen on the phone if he would elect a certain candidate, before realising again that it was a breach. The SEC’s regulations clearly stated that media outlets should refrain from asking people whom they would vote for.
Candidates criticising and directing accusations against each other is also common in the media, especially TV. For example, in a Saturday episode of “Cairo 360 show”, hosted by Osama Kamal on Al-Kahera Wal Nas channel, a candidate from Tayyar Al-Istiqlal and the Egyptian Front Coalition critiqued the “For the Love of Egypt” coalition. He directed accusations against the group of “unrightfully taking over the political scene by dispersing other electoral coalitions formed”.
Similarly, the Al-Wafd Party and the FEP have also been exchanging accusations against each other through the media. Al-Wafd claimed the FEP “stole candidates by paying them off”, while the latter played on embarrassing Al-Wafd by referring to its former alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We have noticed that a number of candidates discussed the private lives of others, and that a number of TV hosts have doubted the transparency of the elections, which we find unacceptable because it directly affects people’s confidence and participation,” Fathy said.
So far, most programmes aim at having balanced coverage and respecting the rule of allocating equal spaces to different candidates to discuss their positions and respond to questions.
Nevertheless, one of the most criticised parties remains the Salafist Al-Nour Party. Most claims regarding the party stem from its religious background, in comparison to the remaining civil political parties, and the party is continuously accused of engaging in violence and extremism.
On 20 September, El-Hadeedy hosted a Coptic candidate from Al-Nour Party as well as a rival Coptic candidate from “For the Love of Egypt”. However, she focused on harshly criticising the Al-Nour Party candidate. El-Hadeedy further interviewed Pope Tawadros II by telephone on another episode, who also criticised the reputation of the Al-Nour Party’s Coptic candidates.
Furthermore, on her Saturday show, El-Hadeedy interviewed the FEP’s president Naguib Sawiris, who said the Al-Nour Party was not constitutional and should be dissolved, swearing never to ally with it inside the parliament.
In another example, the editor-in-chief of Al-Youm Al-Sabea newspaper, Khaled Salah, interviewed Islamist thinker, Mokhtar Nouh, on his “Akhr El-Nahar” programme on Al-Nahar channel. Nouh’s statements were also highly critical of Al-Nour Party.
“Any media campaign that is biased against a party or a candidate accepted by the SEC to compete in elections would be illegal. Moreover, parties and candidates can debate political views, strategies, discussions but must remain within this frame and abstain from libel,” Fathy explained.
Fathy further criticised TV hosts who are also parliamentary candidates at the same time.
He concluded that the SEC is monitoring media content 24 hours, and is also receiving complaints via several communication channels, such as social media, telephone and fax.