- The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has monitored Egyptian state controlled media during the election campaign. The result surprised even the monitors: Broadcasters and newspapers dedicated between 58 and 95 percent of their election coverage to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
CIHRS presented the findings of its monitoring at a Cairo press conference, concluding that there had been a "flagrant bias in favour of the ruling party's candidates" in state controlled media. The problem is made graver by the fact that private, independent media reach a very limited audience in Egypt due to legislation and government policies.
The human rights group's media monitoring team presented a report evaluating the performance of independent and state-owned mass media during Egypt's first round of parliamentarian elections, 27 August 27 to 5 November. It covers eight state-owned TV channels (Channel 1, 2, 4, 6, 8 and the Parliament's TV station), two private channels (Dream 2 and al-Mehwar), in addition to 17 private and state-owned newspapers.
While TV coverage of the campaign was found to be limited, the ruling NDP party candidates enjoyed the lion's share of coverage in this important medium. This, the monitors say, included 68 percent of total coverage by Egypt's Channel 1, 58 percent of coverage by Channel 6, and 66 percent of coverage by the Parliament's TV station.
In Egyptian newspapers, the election campaign was given a more ample coverage, but here "state-owned newspapers were highly biased, far exceeding their bias toward the NDP's candidate during the presidential elections." Coverage of the NDP was found to reach 76 percent of total coverage of various political parties and forces. This bias reached its peak in 'al-Ahram' daily (95 percent) and 'al-Akhbar' newspaper (86 percent), CIHRS reports.
Also in the type of coverage, the NDP had been strongly favoured. "The first part of the front pages of most state-owned newspapers were earnestly and repeatedly dedicated in a noticeable way to coverage of the NDP candidates' conferences, review of achievements or positive decisions by the government or the President during electioneering," the group found.
The CIHRS monitors also found that the ruling party and its newspapers used campaign formats that are against the law the Cairo government enacted to limit the influence of the popular Muslim Brotherhood. Widespread use of religion and religious slogans in electioneering had been "very noticeable", although this contravenes rules regulating elections. Several NDP and other candidates continued to use Quranic verses and religious slogans in paid advertisements and electioneering in general.
While the Cairo human rights group criticised the bias in state media's election coverage, it found that private, independent newspapers had performed very well. These, in particular 'el-Masri el-Youm' and 'Nahdet Masr', had "continued to provide professional and balanced media coverage at both the level of information and analysis, necessary for voters to make informed decisions."
"The private newspapers continued to maintain the unbiased performance they displayed during the presidential elections," the CIHRS concluded in its report. The private press however remains very limited in Egypt, and most independent newspapers are only allowed to appear following registration as a foreign company.
Egyptians yesterday started voting for candidates for a new parliament. The result of the elections, which will be held on six different days in different governorates of the country, will not be known before in December. While campaigning and voting this year so far has been peaceful, few expect the opposition to gain a parliamentary majority despite the NDP's limited popularity.
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