Press freedom: A right reserved for those who conform

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IN February, America along with other signatories filed a declaration through the United Nations (UN) condemning Egypt for its violent suppression of dissent, including against journalists.
In March, US Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, says Washington is not backing any candidates in the upcoming elections saying it was up to the Egyptian people to decide.
But it was ‘critical that they are able to do so in an environment that allows the free expression of political views without intimidation or fear of retribution’.
Truth be told, America is not very much interested in freedom of expression when it impedes on its quest for global dominance.
In response to the UN declaration, Egypt released a statement questioning countries like America for seeking moral high ground when they were in the same boat.
“We call upon those countries that signed to the statement to consider the credibility of their positions when they speak about freedom in the work of journalists and illegally follow their activities and throw them in detention camps and secret prison without trial under the banner of the war on terror.”
Egypt has held journalists including those from Al Jazeera who it accuses of smearing Egypt’s reputation, doctoring footage and aiding terrorists.
Peter Greste, an Australian and former BBC reporter; Mohamed Fahmy, formely of CNN and Baher Mohamed, a local producer, have been in jail in Egypt for 100 days.
A fourth Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shami has been held in Egypt for more than six months and has been on hunger strike since January 23.
His detention was extended for an additional 45 days on March 13.
According to the Associated Press, Al Jazeera is viewed by an estimated 35 million Arabs including some 150 000 in America.
With such high numbers it is apparent that the network carries a lot of influence and can shape the discourse in the Arab communities.
America is also in the habit of detaining and torturing journalists under its counter terrorism policies.
It would seem this tactic of imprisoning journalists is catching on and its allies are on the forefront of suppressing the media.
Over a decade ago, America justified its detention of journalists by claiming they were a threat against national security.
Interestingly, they were Al Jazeera journalists.
The US made leaping connections between news networks and militants.
In typical ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’ fashion, all journalists and media houses that did not report favourably to America’s war on terror and its military objectives were targeted and accused of working with the enemy.
Dick Cheney warned Al Jazeera that it risked being labelled as Osama Bin Laden’s ‘news outlet’ to the world.
On the day before Al Jazeera network interviewed Bin Laden, Cheney urged the network to act, “in a more responsible and representative way” when reporting on the terrorist mastermind.
I guess only America is allowed to tell its side of the story, anything outside of America’s story line is propaganda and lies and as such, do not deserve to express their opinions.
Cheney went so far as to seek to dictate the network’s editorial policy by approaching the Emir of Qatar, Shiek Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani whose family finances Al Jazeera.
Notably, in 2001 a US bomb destroyed Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The Bush Administration called the incident an ‘accident’.
In 2003, an American plane fired upon the channel’s office in Baghdad, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub. Again the Bush administration called the incident a ‘mistake’.
It is alleged that President Bush reportedly told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he wanted to bomb Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
This motivated Wadah Khanfar, the then director-general of Al Jazeera to write a letter to PM Tony Blair demanding clarification from Blair if indeed Bush had threatened to bomb the channel’s headquarters.
Not much later after this incident did, Bush’s righthand man and Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, call the network’s coverage of the Iraq war, ‘vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable’.
American forces arrested and detained Al Jazeera journalists like Sami al Hajj and Salah al Ejaili while they were doing their jobs and tortured them attempting to establish ties between Al Jazeera and Al-Qaida.
After seven years of imprisonment al Hajj was released to Sudanese authorities without any reparations.
Coming back to Egypt, in their third appearance in court two weeks ago, the trio’s lawyer repeatedly asked State investigators whether they could specify how exactly the journalists had either doctored footage or harmed Egypt’s national security.
In almost every response, the investigators said they could not remember and deferred to their written testimonies made at the time of the journalists’ arrest in December last year.
One would think that in such a highly sensitive case, trained investigators would have all information at the tips of their fingers.

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