April 20, 2016

Egypt falls again in World Press Freedom Index, now ranked 159th

Amid growing hostility to media criticism of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government, Egypt has fallen one place in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published today.

The Egyptian media environment is dynamic and the media reflect the country’s polarization between support for Sisi and opposition, but the authoritarian regime has used the fraught security situation to crack down on critical journalists in the name of stability and national security.

Now ranked 159th out of 180 countries, Egypt had fallen steadily in the Index since the end of the Mubarak era, when it was ranked 127th out of 173 countries. Under President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt was ranked 158th of 178 countries in 2012 and 2013.

With more than 20 journalists currently detained on trumped-up charges, Egypt is now one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel although, in an interview for CNN last September, President Sisi claimed that his country’s journalists enjoyed “unprecedented” freedom of expression.

A few days before the interview, Sisi pardoned two Al-Jazeera journalists who had been sentenced to three years in prison in August 2015 after being convicted, at the end of a second trial, of supporting terrorism, spreading false news and working without permission.

Some journalists have been held provisionally for extremely long periods without seeing a judge. They include Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a photographer also known as Shawkan, who was arrested while covering the eviction of deposed President Morsi’s supporters from Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in August 2013.

He was due to go on trial along with more than 700 other defendants in December 2015, but the start of the trial was postponed until March. According to the relatives of detained journalists, some have been badly tortured in prison while others have been denied adequate medical care although very ill.

Journalists who criticize Sisi or his government are liable to be harassed, fired or even jailed. And in response to Jihadi violence in the Sinai Peninsula, the government has imposed “correct” media coverage of armed attacks and bombings.

After creating a “Fact check Egypt” unit in June 2015 to verify media reports and point out (alleged) mistakes, the government went one step further in the anti-terrorism law adopted in August. Under article 33, the media are now obliged to limit themselves to the government’s version of terrorist attacks. Reporters who fail to comply can be fined the equivalent of more than a year’s salary.

Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries using the following criteria – pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.

Go to the RSF website to find out more about the 2016 World Press Freedom Index and the method used to compile it.

Read the Middle East regional analysis.