A New Era for Journalism in the Middle East: “The Fear of Expressing One’s Opinion is Gone Forever”

Mar 72011

The fall of the Mubarak regime has ushered in a new era of press freedom and a hunger for reliable information, says Knight International Journalism Fellow Amr El-Kahky. But he also says it has unleashed a frenzy of competitive reporting that can be dangerous without professional media standards in place.

The Egyptian revolution brings a new era for journalism in the Middle East. Photo from Darkroom Productions

A veteran TV correspondent, he saw a huge difference between what was taking place in the streets during the revolution and what appeared on state-run TV. “Egyptian TV was showing tranquil spots in Cairo while people in Tahrir Square were roaring with demands to bring down the regime,” says El-Kahky, who has formed investigative units at independent news outlets in Jordan, the West Bank and Egypt, his native country, as part of the fellowship.

Even though state-run media have changed their tune since the fall of Mubarak, he says, it is too little, too late – many Egyptians refuse to find those news organizations credible. As a result, “many people are preparing to form independent companies to publish newspapers, launch satellite TV channels or acquire radio stations.” He says this has produced a vibrant media environment where people want to do good journalism in Egypt and throughout the region.

El-Kahky also sees an unprecedented level of press freedom now. “Those who have been banned from appearing on state-run media have started to be featured on TV and in newspapers,” he says. “The fear of expressing one’s opinion is gone forever, and there will be no turning back.”

El-Kahky is concerned that in the frenzy of this new era, the quality of journalism could suffer. Journalists now make allegations, often without documentation. “Some journalists have changed from being very fearful to being very brash at times,” calling people “corrupt” but without the proof to back it up. Better media training, he says, is critical in this new media environment. “Without intervention from organizations like the ICFJ at such a pivotal moment, Egyptian journalists will not benefit at all from the gains of the revolution.”