Assessment of the press coverage of the "Maspero violence" by the Egyptian media Analytical study of independent & national newspapers
By: Yasser Abdel Aziz Fatma El-Zahraa Abdel Fattah October 2011
Contents Introduction 1- Methodology of Research & Procedures 2- Results & Conclusions 1- General Indicators 2- Detailed Indicators A- Results related to news material B- Results related to photos C- Results related to opinion materials 3- Recommendations 4- Annexes
Introduction: On Sunday evening October, 09th, 2011, Egypt has witnessed violent clashes following a protest by thousands calling for "Coptsâ€™ Rights", after the attack on the Almarenab Church in Aswan, southern Egypt, in series attacks on Coptic worship places started with the beginning of this year. The clashes resulted in 27 people dead and dozens wounded. Egyptian newspapers rashly moved to cover the incident and publish details on its successive issues on the next morning October, 10th, 2011. Such coverage clearly demonstrated points of weaknesses of press performance and aroused many questions on the implications related; not only regarding the role of newspapers as media institutions to convey facts with the utmost accuracy and impartiality, but also its social role especially towards sensitive issues such as sectarianism, rights of minorities and religious freedom. The Maspero crisis is a good example to evaluate the quality of press coverage not only due the major significance and the date of events but the important criteria it bears which expressly detect weak points as well, whether related to individual editorsâ€™ performance or the performance of the editorial management inside news rooms. What happened that day was a crisis, consecutive and ambiguous event that required coordinated collective work and involved thorny social risks whether in timing or nature. The six criteria are sufficient to manifestly detect the different professional errors. In this framework, this study aims to detect and analyze Egyptian press coverage of October 2001 Maspero violence to get a scientific appraisal thereof to expose how far the coverage complied with professional basics ruling the quality of the media product. The appraisal will detect points of social influence potential to adhere or breach this disciplined relationship between the professional principles and performance. The study concluded a group of indicators and results by analyzing 776 press materials and 261 photos of events and activities in six Egyptian newspapers; three of them are state-owned (national) "Al-Ahram, AL-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuria" newspapers and the other are independent "Al-Masry Al-Youm, AL-Shorouk and Youm7". The press materials related to Maspero Events have been surveyed in these newspapers editions from 10th to 16th October 2011.
The study will be displayed into four parts; 1- Clarifying methodological and procedural aspects and discussing general traits of press material subject to detection and analysis; 2- Reviewing results, indicators and conclusions related to journalist material analysis in terms of conclusions regarding news items, photos and opinion materials; 3- Showing a series of recommendations related to the assessment of press performance in context of results reached by the research team; 4- Finally, submitting 28 samples of different professional biases which were selected from the coverage materials that handled Maspero Events.
1- RESEARCH METHODOLOGY & PROCEDURES: This study is based on media Survey Method in its level related to means to detect news and views material submitted by the said newspapers in Maspero Events in addition to the Comparative Method which help in getting more obvious denotations around various newspapers differences and causes. As for the Analysis Tools, this study used the following; A- Contents Analysis is used to get a series of indicators according to analysis categories to detect traits of journalistic contents and how far the coverage professional basics are met. B- Proof Method is a qualitative analysis tool belonged to discourse analysis tools. It's suitable for analyzing opinion materials by tracking proofs and evidences told by author to boost his idea or explanation and to get method of conclusion whether it was a logical based on rational persuasion proofs or a sentimental based on utilizing religious inducements, human sympathy and other means of exploiting weak feelings of other or impartial proofs of both. C- Effective Force Analysis is also belonged to discourse analysis tools. It analyzes roles and traits of main forces in media content to reveal the potential situation showed by the material towards these forces and photos received by the reader. In the current events the forces mainly are (Supreme Council of Armed Forces "SCAF", army, Copts, demonstration and government). Analysis categories related to news items included; journalistic form, compatibility of headline with text, efficiency of selecting resources, mixing views with news, balance of headlines and news materials, submitting assumptions and conclusions, distorting facts, accuracy errors and bias.
As for photos, categories of analysis focused on photo sources, the balance of selection, the compatibility of the photos and news texts, photo comments, the compliance of photos with world standards regarding publishing photos of disasters, wars and disputes, which state that photos published must be balanced and photos must provide equal input to all related parties and reserve human dignity, respect the victims feelings and their familiesâ€™ feelings, and respecting humanity in general through balance and introducing facts and avoid exaggerating in publishing offensive photos. In terms of opinion material, categories of analysis focused on used opinion templates, evidences and proofs collected to denote extraction or judgment or assessment put forward, along with descriptions and roles attributed to the key effective forces represented in SCAF, the army, the Copts, the government and the demonstrators. As for Procedural framework, it included collected analytical study in six Egyptian daily newspapers; three of them are state-owned "Al-Ahram, AL-Akhbar and AlGomhuria" newspapers and the other are independent "Al-Masry Al-Youm, ALShorouk and Youm7" â€Ś over consecutive seven days extending from the first day of publication of events in the newspapers, Monday October 10th until Sunday, October 16th , 2011, whereas all photos, newsworthy materials, and opinion materials published in newspapers were monitored and analyzed in the said period.
During this period, 776 press texts were monitored, they were divided in terms of type into 520 newsworthy materials, and 256 opinion materials, and in terms of each newspaper share they were distributed in an descending order as follows: AL-Akhbar (149 press texts), Al-Masry Al-Youm (147 press texts), AL-Shorouk (143 press texts), Al-Gomhuria (130 press texts), Al-Ahram (106 press texts) and Youm7 (101 press texts). Figure (1) shows a qualitative distribution of the analytical materials of the newspapers. In terms of photos material, 379 images were analyzed including 261 field images of events and activities related and 118 personal photos. Figure (2) shows the distribution of images on the newspapers of the study.
2- RESULTS & CONCLUSIONS Within the context of comparative analysis conducted by research team on the quantitative and qualitative levels, the study reached a group of results regarding the assessment of press coverage of incidents, the general and detailed indicators of which are as follows; 1- GENERAL INDICATORS: Maspero incidents were thorny, ambiguous, stunning and dangerous. It represented a difficult and rare test to evaluate professional press coverage of varied newspapers which, in turn, committed various mistakes. The study showed that that the independent newspapers were more moderate, objective and impartial in covering events compared to the state-owned newspapers. Further, it indicated that AL-Shorouk and AlMasry Al-Youm ranked first among other tested newspapers in terms of commitment to balanced coverage and impartiality and non-mixing opinion with news despite committing some professional errors. The study noted that the state-owned newspapers lack a clear professional editorial independent line, which was reflected to the fundamental transformation of coverage trends from the first to later days. In addition, the SCAF has adopted reporting and displaying events as "FACTS", which was reproduced imbalanced and partial orientations whether in newsworthy or opinion materials. The transformation trends were not only limited to state newspapers but also to a independent newspaper "Youm7" which, in the first day of incidents, submitted imbalanced coverage represented in impartial proactive appraisal that attributed killing and devastation to Coptic demonstrators, the matter which turned, in the next day of incidents, into rumors about intruder subversive group that seeks sedition. The newspapers witnessed cases which mixed opinion with news and a biased coverage whether in texts or headlines. The study exhibited that the state-owned newspapers were more involved in this mistake, while AlShorouk and Al-Masry Al-Youm were less involved, whereas Youm7 and AL-Akhbar were the most. The study clarified that there was some defects in covering hot events in terms of the diminished ability to offer integrated and harmonious field coverage that make use of eye witnesses without orienting their witnesses in favor of prior views. Many types of media bias have been detected in press material under analysis, which all the newspapers samples include even, albeit, in varied rates. This bias is clearly evident in the state-owned newspapers and in the first day of coverage.
Imbalance, both in feature story and headlines, was one problem that all state-owned newspapers suffered from in the first day in the wake of the events. Though the first day of coverage represented the ceiling imbalance particularly in state newspapers, it was different in one national newspapers and another. Independent newspapers committed the same mistake as well. Al-Ahram was quieter and more reserved than AlGomhuria and AL-Akhbar; both newspapers mixed opinion with news, presented conclusions and personal views and provided pre-accusations. Whereas, in independent newspapers, Youm7 was the least balanced in first day coverage compared to Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Shorouk which reflected on the unjustified transformation to the direction of drastic treatment in state newspapers and Youm7 a few days later. Photos represented the key element in coverage; the newsworthy material used 261 event photos and 118 individual photos during study, but the newspapers differently used the photos. Al-Masry Al-Youm was the most in using field photos but Al-Ahram was the least. The study witnessed a clear bias in photos use. The state newspapers avoided displaying photos of armored vehicles running over and crashing civilians or photos of demonstrators' causalities, likewise Youm7 only in the first coverage day before turning its coverage track. A clear defect in captions is detected. A 31% of captions included personal assessment while the captions were absent in many cases particularly in Al-Gomhuria newspaper. Opinion materials were provided in an ample way, but it were limited to specific tends of explanation, interpretations and suggestion, which in general negatively affected the dissertation submitted. Analysis of opinion materials showed a poor analytical inclination compared to impressionistic writing, oscillation between the feelings of writer himself and adopting contradictory views as in Al-Gomhuria Supplement 18 and Al-Masry Al-Youm Supplement 19.
2- DETAILED INDICATORS A- Newsworthy materials Confusion in Covering urgent Events: The question, "What happened?", is the most pressing question for all readers in crises and urgent events. Although Maspero events are still ambiguous till the time this study was conducted and the investigation authorities are engaged in attempts to uncover the circumstances and plots thereof, an enormous discrepancy was noted in covering the first day events which was resulted in several mistakes related; such of these mistakes are as follows: - Poor Harmony of Coverage is clearly evident in Al-Masry Al-Youm (see Supplement 10). There was disorder of proofs and reiteration in texts which made the feature story untidy and bearing inconsistent details. - Misuse of Eye Witnesses whether by displaying contradicted witnesses without clarifying any criteria that help to extrapolate them like location of witness at the scene or time of providing witness, along with taking up a specific viewpoint and giving it sufficient time as if it has been actually happened (see Supplement 26).
Providing Advance Assessment of Covering Events, circumstances and causes, which was resulted in turning trends of treatment (see Supplements 1, 3, 5, and 6).
Press Sources: The variety and number of press sources indicate the argument rate aroused by newspapers regarding the events. The total of sources used in the under-study newspapers is 1579 divided among newspapers as in figure3.
The under-study newspapers used wide and varied selections of sources. Figure 4 shows the varied disparity in sources among state and independent newspapers, where convergence in rates between two categories is clear. Yet a high rate of using governmental, military, clergymen and religious institutions resources is noted in state newspapers.
The sources in press material is between minimum zero in all study newspapers and maximum 16 in Youm 7, maximum 14 in Al-Ahram & Al-Masry Al-Youm, 15 in AlGomhuria, 9 in Al-Shorouk and 8 in AL-Akhbar. Figure 5 shows the rate of no-orlimited source materials in the total analyzed newsworthy materials.
Figure 6 shows the no-sources or one-source topics in different study newspapers. It's noted that the no-source and one-source news were in high rate in the three state newspapers " Al-Ahram, AL-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuria, but Al-Masry Al-Youm was more reliable on two-source news.
Displaying Opinion entangled in Newsworthy: Table 1: Newsworthy materials in which opinion is entangled in news. State Newspapers Newspaper Edition No. Al-Ahram 10 AL-Akhbar 16 Al-Gomhuria 9 Total 35
Independent Newspapers Newspaper Edition No. Al-Masry Al-Youm 2 Al-Shorouk 1 Youm 7 15 Total 18
As shown in table 1, the state-owned newspapers entangled opinion in news almost twice the rate in independent newspapers. This analysis was conducted on the first page in study newspapers along with materials related to the first page topics in the newspaper number. Balance: The mainstream applied in most newspapers coverage is the interpretation in the frame of a clear orientation of features story in its textual and visual terms, which
made most stories to be directed not to be a reflection of facts, or at least it should convey varied reports, but the stories tried to convey a specific interpretation of events. Paradoxically enough, this interpretation was contradicted in its components during study terms, which caused a lack of bias where the study newspapers had to remain impartial towards all the conflicted parties, which is referred to in the study appendixes and mentioned prior in Press Sources. The imbalance defects were detected in the first page and the interior main topics related as in Table 2. Table 2 Balance in newsworthy materials in the first page and interior main topics related. State Newspapers Newspaper Balanced Imbalanced Al-Ahram 4 7 AL-Akhbar 3 12 Al-Gomhuria 4 20 Total 11 39
Independent Newspapers Newspaper Balanced Al-Masry Al-Youm 17 Al-Shorouk 14 Youm 7 15 Total 46
Imbalanced 2 1 8 12
Bias Types: Our study demonstrated several types of media bias as follows; 1- Corporate Bias: It's clearly evident in selecting or slanting stories and framing headlines to please the corporate owners of newspaper, likewise slanting of state newspapers according to official position shown by SCAF. The coverage shifted from condemning the Copts as riot inciters to a talk about sabotage intruders. It's the standing adopted by the official reporting that was released in a press conference, presented by state newspaper by using the term "Facts". On the other hand, the independent newspaper made a more balanced coverage since the first day coverage, except for Youm 7 whose coverage witnessed about-face from condemnation of Copts to talk about the "Massacre" of Coptic protesters. 2- Bias By Omission, through displaying incomplete facts which means a contradictory act to the part of press in delivering facts to people. Another professional defect was deformation of facts. This type appeared obviously on the second day of events particularly in the state newspaper and Youm 7 which excluded the details of running over and smashing protesters and security assaults. 3- Bias By Story Framing, by putting the events in a context containing an interpretation of the event or a reaction. Most of the study newspapers tended to use consensus frame in displaying the event interpretation or narration, to emphasize the tackling line adopted by the newspaper whether the newspaper tendency toward condemning protestors and sit-in in general or condemning
the regime's dealing through selecting and embodying justifications that support such interpretation as a consensus frame. 4- Bias By Limiting Debate, is the bias in the individualistic reporting of event, and not importing other sources that show different points of views and enrich the discussion on event, as in Figure 4, and by a number of no-sources topics as in Figure 6 which illustrate variances among the study newspaper in this respect. Photographed Material: The number of press photos of events and related actions reached about 261, with utmost use by Al-Masry Al-Youm and least use in Al-Shorouk and Al-Ahram. This partly correlated with the number of feature stories in the said newspaper and layout system of those newspapers that selected few photos and spread them on enough area like Al-Shorouk. By analyzing these photos, we may reach the following findings: -
Balance of photos cannot be assessed on the subject integrity but can be done on the whole level of coverage. This shows that each newspaper relied on selections that serve the intended message. The state newspapers tended, in the beginning of their defense of the army, to choose photos showing burning armored vehicles and injured military men, or at least neutralizing the photo by selecting general scenes of fire (cf. Supplement 4). They shifted to publish funeral photos in churches and avoided photos of dead bodies of some victims. Al-Shorouk and Al-Masry Al-Youm went choosing photos depicting all sides of event, avoiding photos of dead bodies too except in limited deal. The study newspapers didnâ€™t publish photos that depict non-humanitarian or dignity hurting scenes which conform to rules of publishing photos in disputes time, besides a poor balance of the said photos. Most of the study newspapers didn't comply with rules of photos captioning, and went to insert some vague judgments, the result was many photos in many newspapers with more than one caption (cf. Supplement 9).
C- Opinion Materials The opinion materials detected by the research team varied from editorial, columns, articles and caricatures. They were the material which had a variant distribution among study newspapers as shown in Figure 7.
By analyzing tracking proofs which used opinion materials, it can be said that it was closely correlated with attributes and roles of main effective force. In other words, each track of interpretation provided a group of proofs and evidences which in itself represented attributes and roles of the main effective force. The material opinions were treated in three tracks which sometimes overlapped and converged, but in general it represents three main dimensions of materials: First Interpretation: The march tended to unjustified assault, this interpretation relied on photos of persons appeared inside the march of protesters bearing some weapons while the SCAF declared disarmament of his soldiers, alongside chants of offensive slogans and banners hinting to blood and violence. This vision was reflected on attributes and roles which referred to effective forces as follows: ď‚ˇ
SCAF/ Army: Brave/Protected the revolution/Insisted to be biased in favor of the people and revolution/Didn't deal with Copts as they deserve/ Behaved quietly and urged the ungovernable protesters/Responsible for crackdown and security of home front/ Able to steer the home ship into the port of salvation.
Copts: Are smashing/ sparked panic between the passers-by/ threw Molotov bottles/ Occupied/Attempted breaking into TV Building/Set fir to/Fired shots/Killed martyrs/Coptic clergymen poured oil on the fire/ Coptic enthusiastic young people clashed with the army because of incitement/Several parties consider Egypt as a fallen booty in opportunistic scenes/ Raised a crisis for a case didn't worth scores of dead persons. Protestation: An extremist protestation aims to closing highways, breaking down traffics and vandalism/ Committed terrorist actions.
This interpretation dominated the mainstream on first and second day of events, particularly in state newspapers, while it was decreased later on following days but was nonstop. A group of writers continued adopting this mainstream in full or part through condemning "some" incitation forms practiced by "some" Christian clergymen which pushed them to violence or at least wrathful isolation. Second Interpretation: Intruding of some thugs & failure of the government to handle the crisis are the reason for breaking events. This interpretation – particularly in the first part (thugs) – is similar to the narration reported by SCAF which helped its circulation including the accompanied proofs and attributes in newspapers, especially state newspapers. State newspapers worked to reproduce this interpretation including its contents of newsworthy and opinions without distinction. This interpretation assured that the revolution claims aren't fulfilled all of a sudden, there is no need to revert to violence, there a conspiracy plotted whether by ex-regime icons or unknown party. This interpretation was accompanied by a group of roles and attributes ascribed to the main forces, who are:
SCAF: The same attributes which holds SCAF irresponsible, but this interpretation started criticizing SCAF indirectly through censure on "officials", "government", "officials-in-charge" and "interior forces". It's the same forces that abused the most influential time of eight months in the country history/disrespected the will of the people/ relied on common-law methods to settle disputes/ led the transitional phase in improvised manner/are beneficiary from oppressor and tyrant regimes. Government: is weak/absent/leading the homeland into ruin/seeking satisfaction of SCAF/ having no active reactions/stupid and leaving the problem growing unresolved/practicing appeasement, avoiding confrontation and disrespecting the country dignity/seeking invisible hands/ working in slow and late-bloom manner and invalid for managing transitional phase/witnessing aggression but do nothing/ not thinking outside the box/ performing inactively as Mubarak's behavior/slow/acting as a provisional/managing the affairs leniently and not able to issue any influential decree/reiterating the ex-regime behaviors in thorny issues. Copts: are oppressed/have rights to be granted/reiterated anger due to reiterated aggressions/ went out of church lap into the vastness of home
country/ resort to violence is a serious turning-point contradicted with their history/are civilized and know that law is the way to protect their rights. Intruders: are forces of counter-revolution/foreign forces/foreigners who seek outbreak of civil war/subversive group seeks spreading chaos.
Third interpretation: SCAF is responsible for events under his wrong management of transitional phase. This interpretation is grown immediately after the press conference held by SCAF leaders in which they accused some intruders of using violence and defended the governmental performance and media, which pushed some writers to directly criticize SCAF and assume it responsible. This interpretation is accompanied with a group of roles and attributes ascribed to effective main forces, who are:
SCAF, is the fully responsible for the events/ military man is not suitable for political work/ pursued a method characterized by recklessness and negligence/influenced by persons aspired to power and spin doctors/military man is not suitable/pursue Mubarak behavior by leaving cases still open with no final settlement/ only within eight months shifted us from the breathtaking scene in Tahrir Square to the panic scene in Maspero. Army: This interpretation is divided between charging army who "take up arms against the people for the first time" and distinguishing between SCAF as apolitical administration and the army as patriotic military force. But accusations targeted the SCAF because its leaders turned the army from a shield protecting protesters into a tool for killing them/put the army in a political confrontation with civilians/pushed troops of soldiers with no any expertise or efficiency to face serious issues. Copts: the same sympathetic attributes that assures that their anger is justified. Government: the same negative attributes mentioned in the aforementioned interpretations.
These interpretations with its accompanied proofs (included attributes and roles of the main effective forces) showed arising opinion materials in an ambient medium with emotional interpretations which were based on variant not logical analyses according to rational visioning that can analyze events parts and causes and provide short and long term solutions, which was strongly referred to by a turning in some writers positions as in their articles. The positions of opinion materials towards the effective forces were variant, this variation was not only between two writers or two newspapers but also within the same article of the journalist over the successive days after events whether he referred to or not (cf. Supplement 19) or apologized or not (cf. Supplement 18).
In fact, the nature of events makes us inevitably use emotional appeals and enthusiastic language, but the main roles of opinion materials should be applied. Turning positions in some newspapers, accompanied by turning standings of writers, or limiting offered solutions in interim proposals or elastic phrases and mottos without clarifying effective execution tools, or discussing events in a frame of individualistic vision not basic on comparison to other countries or other periods, is a defect in opinion materials as in our study. On the other hand, the analysis revealed defects in rules of writing for newspapers. Some factors consider writing an article is a journalistic high prestige not as a service submitted by the newspaper to the reader with integrated aspects to the newsworthy through raising discussion around the events and providing analytical dimensions and perspectives more deeply. This phenomenon is clearly evident in Al-Akhbar and AlGomhuria in which a multitude of articles is available but most of them lack required efficiency. 3- Recommendations: In the context of the findings and conclusion reached by the research team, and in light of defects and shortcomings detected, the study recommends the following: -
Realigning state-owned newspapers to, change nature of its performance, limit inability to adopt an obvious and independent editorial line based on binding professional rules, release it from subordination to the governing authority, reproduce its ideas at media level and to play its role by enlightening public opinion and provide news as a "public service press" not an " authoritarian governmental propaganda". Providing intensive rehabilitation and journalism training programs regarding transfer of skills, knowledge and criteria of world quality standards in press coverage, particularly regarding coverage of conflicts, disputes and the competitive processes, both in terms of collecting field information, and the use of eyewitnesses, selection of images, or building feature stories, drafting texts and headlines, and deepening knowledge by values of good journalistic work, particularly neutrality, balance, precision and depth. Developing clear and binding policies for writing criteria based on awareness of the role played by opinion materials within the integrated media service provided by the newspaper, establishing appropriate criteria for selecting writers and providing raised ceiling of freedom to allow expressing multiple views based on proofs and evidence to enrich the communal discussion around different issues and support the social role of journalism in this regard. Establishing a press complaint commission as Press Complaints Commission in the United Kingdom provided that it's independent, fully funded by various Egyptian newspapers, and managed by a board of
advisers including independent seniors of high professionalism and integrity. The said commission shall be vested to receive complaints and comments from the public domain with respect to defects of coverage patterns of the newspapers that could pose harm to third parties or individuals or skew orientations of the public towards events. It shall examine these complaints, and issue reports condemning abusive coverage and claim its owners to correct errors and apologize or they shall be subject to deterrent financial penalties.