Anecdote, platitude, inspirational quote, etc…

WAN-IFRA had asked me to write them an article for World Press Day. The Theme was “Silence Kills Democracy, but a free Press still talks”. This is what I’ve sent them.


When writing this article, one is quite tempted to take the easy way out: Write about the importance of free speech, how a free press emboldens democracy, and provide some sort of semi-horrifying/semi-inspirational anecdote about a journalist who was very brave and faced the odds and now everything is better and democracy stands triumphant, all because of a free press. And quite naturally, since I am one of the new-media pioneers (remember when it used to be called just blogging? I miss that), not to mention a “voice of the Egyptian revolution”, I am supposed to take this stand and advocate that position with all the might and power of the jan25 revolution. I really want to, but… I can’t, because there is a problem in the premise, and one that won’t go away anytime soon.

It used to be easy to advocate this point of view, that of a simplistic world where the evil government oppressed the good journalists and bloggers, and where the Internet offered us the only space of freedom of speech that we were allowed to exist in. The basis of this view was quite evident: The regime used to ban newspapers, arrest journalists, and the journalists would fight back in courts and we would stand in solidarity defending the right to free speech and freedom of the press. This view was something that I subscribed to until we had the revolution and the regime was gone and for a good while we had no censorship, during which time, slowly but surely, that point of view went through a serious case of deterioration. Let me explain.

Before the revolution there were two kinds of press in Egypt: Newspapers that were against the regime, and newspapers that were trying to be mediators between the regime and the people (whether by being state-owned media, or “centrist” journalistic institutions). Then the revolution happened, and there was suddenly no regime, and that’s when the fatal flaw showed its face. The anti-regime newspapers suddenly had no regime to oppose or ministers to expose, and the mediating newspapers suddenly had no regime to mediate for, and it all went downhill very quickly. The anti-regime newspapers milked the old regime for all its worth, spending month upon month writing about the scandals of the regime and its ex-officials, most of which are articles that were poorly sourced and mostly based on “hearsay” and “truisms” or ”common-knowledge”. The mediating newspapers didn’t have a single editorial line that they could or were able to follow, which used to lead to opposing headlines on the same topic in two consecutive days, without a hint of an explanation or apology for the 180-degree switch in 24 hours. At a time in which the whole nation was looking for guidance and truth, the Egyptian press lacked both, despite the fact that they had all the freedom in the world. Or maybe because of it… because now we had all the freedom, accompanied by zero accountability, and serious resistance to any form of it as well. Hubris or power-drunk are not the right words, but they are the first to come to mind. And then things got worse.

You see, this model presented the journalists of the old-regime a golden opportunity to do the same thing to revolutionary forces through their old or new media outlets, which led to a series of incredibly false and scandalous reports about the revolution’s symbols, none of which they were ever held accountable for. The press became a battlefield of conflicting false accounts and exaggerations, truth was the first casualty, and all credibility went out of the window. We suddenly lived in a Huxley-ian world where there was no truth, only narrative, and the people got flooded with such conflicting information that they either believed what they wanted to believe (whether it was “The revolutionaries are foreign agents” or “Mubarak still rules us”), or tuned out completely from the entire process and stopped paying attention to any of the current events or caring about their outcome.

Until this day, this still holds true: No one has identified the problem or tried to solve it in any real way, given that all the players have seemingly decided that credibility no longer matters, as long as the content is controversial and sells issues. So, yeah, after an entire year of this, I am not entirely sure that the free press truly supports democracy in our case. However, it does get people talking, so if silence truly kills democracy, I guess our press is doing its job protecting it.

23 Comments on Anecdote, platitude, inspirational quote, etc…

  1. MegRyan
    April 20, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    There is a reason that democracies flourish in Christian and not muslim countries it has to do with Islam and what it does to the individual. JWhen the prophet can lie, steal, rape, destroy etc. and he is the example of the perfect individual and a society is raised on this you cannot make democracy and liberty fluorish you have to get to the root of the problem. The ideology destroys the individual and be corollorary the society. Just for the record I’m not a christian

    • Karim Hari
      April 23, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      “When the prophet can lie, steal, rape, destroy ”

      According to whom? Bush, Sharon, Baba Schnoder, Breivik????

      • Karen
        April 28, 2012 at 4:46 am

        According to the Koran.

        • MegRyan
          May 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm

          This is why I believe Islam will never work with freedom because there is no room for the individual. Every muslim is part of the “umma” and as such are not free as individuals to interpret, discuss or even think of themselves as individuals. It is “group think” just like in books such as “Brave New World”. The Reformation was profound, in that, people (the individual) demanded the right to read, discuss, question and interpret the bible for themselves. The Koran unlike the Bible is explicit that this is the “Word of God” and as such is not open to discussion etc. and that those that question are apostates and must be killed. This is why I am NOT hopefully that Islam can be reformed instead it will take over a billion people to renounce it, which is not possible. Freedom only came to the west when people in the west accepted that the individual is the smallest minority that has rights that the majority cannot take away from them. Majority rule is totalitarianism in any of its forms whether it is Communism, Socialism, Theocratic rule etc. Democratic elections are only a means to transfer power from one group to another without causing bloodshed. This is only possible if all parties agree to give up power without going to arms. People in the east don’t get that the success of our countries rests on the rights of the Individual to own his own life, property and ideas. The American constitution only came into being because citizens in the New World believed in this way before the constitution was put in place. They left the Old World because of MAJORITY RULE which only leads to oppression, violence and stagnation.

          • Karim Hari
            May 4, 2012 at 1:24 am

            Why you think you still hold any moral high ground is beyond me. Especially when it was the West that backed Mubarak.

        • Karim Hari
          May 4, 2012 at 1:17 am

          Now you getting serious. Than please quote from the Quran. And I can quote from the Bible or the Talmud very easily. and let`s look who will win.

  2. yqxo
    April 21, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I wonder what will happen when Egypt gets a channel with journalistic integrity?

    If people see it covering the issues honestly from all sides, it may gain following and reputation as a credible channel. Which of course raises the bar for other channels to achieve similar status. This is the way free media can help.

    Having only channels providing crap and sensational, opinionated reporting may be remnant of authoritarian control. It can be seen like this: Did Mubarak’s regime allowed actual journalistic integrity to exist?

    If Egypt now has free media, then I expect the journalistic integrity to take over by time. Maybe year is not enough to see it thrive…

  3. Hossam
    April 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm


    I agree with your observation that democracies flourish in Christian and not Muslim countries. But, I cannot say I agree with the reasoning of your argument.
    Democracies exist in non-Christian Japan, as it is absent in many Christian countries across Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

    It also seems quite radical to argue that the prophet established an example of lying, stealing, raping and destroying.

    Not all ideologies are destructive. Societies need ideologies to function. Most political and economic polices require an ideology or a vision even if it is not advocated as an explicit system of thought. Ideologies tend to destroy individuals when ideologies are embraced without reason or evidence. Ideologies destroy individuals and societies when they are embraced as a dogma. In my opinion, the way we embrace ideologies is the real root of our problems.

  4. Publicola
    April 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Albert Camus: la lucidité, le refus, l’ironie et l’obstination

    .. We would like to discuss and define here the conditions and means by which … freedom cannot only be preserved, but also expressed and manifested.
    These means are four in number:
    lucidity, refusal, irony and steadfastness.

    Lucidity requires resistance against the impulses and feelings of hatred and against the cult of inexorable fate. … A free journalist … does not publish anything that could excite hatred or cause despair. …

    Facing the rising tide of stupidity, it is also necessary to counter this rising tide of stupidity with some refusals. All constraints of the world will not induce a decent and upright human being to accept to be dishonest. Well, and if you only know a little the mechanism of information, it is easy to ensure the authenticity of news. … And thus a free newspaper is to be judged on as much what it writes as on what it does not write. This – albeit rather negative – freedom is by far the most important freedom of all, if we are able to uphold it. Because it paves the way to true freedom. Accordingly, an independent newspaper provides the source of its information, helps the public to assess the information it publishes, repudiates indoctrination, does without insults and defamations, balances the standardization of information by commentaries, in brief, serves the interest of truth to the extent human nature and human efforts might allow. …

    This brings us to irony. One can assume, in principle, that men who have the will and the means to impose constraints are impervious to irony. …. A free journalist … does not harbour too many illusions about the intelligence of those who oppress him. He is pessimistic about human nature. … But truth and freedom are fastidious and demanding sweethearts and mistresses because they only have few lovers.

    … There are many obstacles to the freedom of expression. These are not the most severe obstacles that can discourage a human being. …
    But we must admit that there are daunting and discouraging obstacles:
    the constancy of stupidity, organized cowardice, aggressive brainlessness and ignorance …
    Here is the great obstacle that must be overcome. Steadfastness is a cardinal virtue here. By a curious paradox it enters the service of objectivity and tolerance. …

    by Albert Camus (1939)

    [This article should have been published Nov. 25, 1939 in “Le Soir républicain”, a one-sheet-only daily newspaper, co-edited by Albert Camus in Algiers, but was censored so that it did not appear in print. Only recently it has been discovered and dug up from French national archives by Ms Macha Sery.]

    • Karim Hari
      April 23, 2012 at 11:05 pm

      …….and then he embraced the slaughtering of Algerians.

  5. house
    April 23, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Anecdote, platitude, inspirational quote, etc…
    Appreciate it for this post, I will be extremely thankful to find out these kinds of fantastic information.
    Thank you!

  6. Judy in Oklahoma
    April 28, 2012 at 4:43 am

    Egyptian press & blogs sound almost exactly like American press & blogs on a regular day. You nailed it. Everybody has an agenda, some won’t admit it because they don’t recognize their own bias… then there are the cynical spin doctors, conclusions before facts and fact selectors. Bad bs pointing at religious differences, humans are human.

    I’ve visited your site for a couple of years, have worried over you, and rejoiced in your safety and return to blogging in your very informative and straight forward way. look forward to the book!

  7. Adam B
    April 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Well, whadyanow… It WAS a late April fools’ joke!


  8. Publicola
    May 4, 2012 at 11:40 am

    @ MegRyan & Karim Hari

    The problem is not – in my view – any Holy Book (Bible, Koran) or their contents, but the (necessary) separation of the religious and the worldly sphere, the realm of the beyond from the realm of public earthly existence, the separation of religion (Church, Mosque, theolog) and state.

  9. Mostafa
    May 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I agree with the idea that a totally free press can have its downsides – however, just as democracy is “the best of all bad forms of government” that is the case regarding freedom of speech

    Having any form of state censorship body that filters content would lead to the exact same issues that we dealt with before (as opposed to financial penalties for libel, etc. brought by individual citizens seen in front of an impartial court).

    This is the start of a free press – just as competition drives certain products/brands to win, then the press will do the same… For example, Youm7 was a big deal during the revolution but overtime the inaccuracy of their reports has definitely led to a decline… Growing pains…

    Also note though, Western countries deal with the same crap – not necessarily in revolutionary times but at pivotal moments in their politics… For example, Fox News spreading that Obama was Muslim/non-American during his election, he is a socialist, etc. etc. so its something we have to deal with…

    I agree with your points but the problem is, many will take the logical conclusion as to censor media in a limited fashion but that is the same as trying to curb only a “part” of free speech – which inevitably is a slippery slope enabling the government to continually expand that “part”…

    Unfortunately, humans and governments are not very good at moderation so some clear rules and red lines tends to be the safest route…

    • Mostafa
      May 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      “Democracy is the best of all bad forms of government” above was a butchering of the Churchill quote: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”


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