By Tim Nanns
Might the reports about police violence in fact be motivated by a reason that seems rather unlikely in Egypt? Is it an actual fight for press freedom in the face of a system that’s putting a growing effort in quelling dissent by arresting journalists and political activists?
The recent developments consecutively could be seen as a test of strength: How strong is press freedom in post-revolutionary Egypt when the security forces are aiming to regain their old power?
The typical journalist tends to welcome every freedom he can get, for it makes his work if not easier then at least more interesting. It allows him to find, and actually publish, stories that might contradict fixed assumptions or official positions.
Therefore a real struggle for press freedom amongst the Arabic-language press does not seem so far-fetched, because even the most rebellious journalist does not necessarily want to go to prison, especially when he knows about their condition. The journalist is afraid of the invisible red line he might cross at some point, in a country where overly critical reports can go hand-in-hand with prosecution on a frequency that can hardly be explained as coincidence and sometimes confirmedly is not.
The previous argument on first glimpse does not necessarily seem to back the assumption that journalists would incite a struggle for press freedom that might also take them to prison but pushing the red line farther out by acting together, instead of accepting that the red line means fact-based reports about endemic police violence already are a ticket to prison, could be a risk worth taking.
Of course, this is a gamble for the Arabic-language press, since the Ministry of Interior is not known to back down easily. But it might be a gamble worth taking when the only other options you face are either to stick to tame reporting or face prison.
The other explanation, even though far more plain, would be the simple drive of every journalist to dig up an interesting story since a good journalist usually shares some key characteristics with a bloodhound.
So is maybe the simple drive for a good story behind these recent developments? Surely the torture practices in certain police stations are a big topic and in the past haven’t been covered as extensively as now in the Arabic-language press.
Also the small ‘uprising’ of the press against the ensuing repression attempts against journalists of Al-Dostour and later Al-Masry Al-Youm is quite a big story of its own, as our own coverage demonstrates, and might have evolved into something that no journalist wants to miss.
Again this is a huge gamble, but journalism has seen much more adventurous endeavours and sees them every day with war reporters putting their lives at risk for various reasons. Though they most probably would hardly admit it, but getting the best story out of it usually has its role in these risky moves.
So in the end, it might be tough to clearly distinguish between these two possible motivations as both may be somewhat the truth, differing from journalist to journalist. One might see his foremost responsibility in defending press freedom, with a good story being a nice advantage to that, while another one might see it as a story which only gets better by the risks attached.