Egyptians who live amid rapid and sweeping political transformations are facing the difficult task of turning the page of rigged polls and conducting a more transparent and free elections. Yet this task is nothing compared to the challenge of setting up free media where censorship has reigned for decades, a challenge that Egyptians have to meet if they are to make democracy a reality.
In spite of recent remarkable increase in freedom, media still suffers from biased and unfair reporting, however subtle and discrete this might be.
This indirect bias is clear in private and state-controlled media's support of pro-Mubarak's candidates, as Egyptians call them, in spite of the ruling military council's insistence that it's not backing any party against the other. These candidates are Ahmed Shafiq who was the last prime minister of Mubarak and Amr Mussa who before becoming secretary general of the Arab League worked for ten years as Egypt's foreign minister.
Egypt newspapers bias coverage
The lack of neutrality was also visible in the way Egypt's three leading newspapers – Ahram, Jumhuryah and Akhbar - covered the tally of the vote of Egyptian expats, who predominantly voted in favour of Islamist contenders like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Mohammed Morsi, together with Arab nationalist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi.
These papers ran regular headlines on Musa and Shafiq, focusing on them when they got most of the votes in France, Lebanon and Israel without mentioning the relatively small number of Egyptians voters in these countries. Jumhurya reported extensively on Shafiq's getting half of the votes of the 50 Egyptian expats who live in Sierra Leone, while ignoring the news that said he got tens or hundreds of votes in countries where Egyptian expatriates voted in thousands in favour of his opponents.
State-owned newspapers and most of private newspapers sidelined the news coming from Saudi Arabia which gave a comfortable lead to Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi. They, instead, focused on the supreme election commission's decision to postpone the announcement of these results following challenges fielded by other candidates.
Egyptian media tried over the last few weeks to present Shafiq as one of the heavyweights in spite that many Egyptians say he does not stand a chance to be one of the contest frontrunners. The media based its reporting on a series of opinion polls which they said show that Shafiq is the candidate most likely to win. No one, though, knows where the poll samples came from.
Editor-in-chief of Shuruq newspaper, Imam Addin Hasan, said that state-owned newspapers have improved a great deal from what they were under Mubarak even though they tend to back candidates who are reportedly loyal to the former regime and are quite often anti-Islamists.
With regard to private newspapers, Hasan contends that they try to appear neutral and express different views but some of them show unmistakable bias due to the fact that their owners are mostly businessmen who amassed their fortunes under Mubarak.
National TV's proven neutrality
With regard to TV broadcasts, it is just remarkable to see how far the national TV station has come in terms of neutrality and balanced reporting. It has moved away from glorifying the regime to become known for its fairness to all parties to the public debate. This huge leap forward is not tainted by the persistence of few mistake and flaws which are still noticeable in its performance.
Private TV stations in Egypt are numerous and curiously enough did not show a keen interest in neutrality like the national television. They failed to present an accurate and unbiased reporting by giving longer time slots to their favourite candidates and by asking them easy questions, contrary to the other candidates who are subjected to embarrassing grilling.
It is true that media's coverage of the election was biased, a fact that was recognized by national committee for the evaluation of media performance in the election. Yet some analysts strike a positive note, saying that media did very well in the elections compared to the situation before the revolution; and that like other aspects of life in the Egypt, media is irreversibly set on a path of change to the better.