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Interview: Press must maintain objectivity in covering presidential elections, says head of Egypt's NPA Karam Gabr

Maher Maklad, Saturday 27 Jan 2018
Karam Gabr
The head of Egypt's National Press Authority (NPA) Karam Gabr (Photo by Al-Ahram)
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Views: 3151

The head of Egypt's National Press Authority (NPA) Karam Gabr talked to Al-Ahram Daily in an interview, to be published in its Sunday edition, about objectivity and transparency in covering Egypt's upcoming presidential elections, which will take in March.

Gabr said that the NPA has prepared guidelines for media outlets to follow when covering the elections in order to ensure impartiality and transparency.

Gabr said that news media should not rely on anonymous sources, whose information can be difficult to verify.

"These are open elections that hold no secrets," Gabr said.

Gabr also underscored the necessity of maintaining objectivity, saying that the media should give all candidates equal opportunity to present their programme.

On covering President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's candidacy, Gabr said that this should be handled with adherence to two main points.

The first is highlighting El-Sisi's accomplishments during his tenure as president, "which do not belong to President El-Sisi alone, but to the Egyptian state and the Egyptian people."

"These accomplishments should be given their due in promotion before the public," Gabr said.

The second point is that El-Sisi's candidacy should be covered with the same respect shown to all other candidates.

Gabr also said that the NPA governs in adherence to the law and the National Elections Authority (NEA), and that media outlets should not rush to announce the results of the elections.

"The NEA is the only body with the authority to announce the results," Gabr said.

Gabr also said that every journalist has the right to obtain information and be present at polling stations.

He added that journalists also have duties to which they must adhere, the foremost of which is maintaining impartiality.

On the role of state news outlets in covering the elections, Gabr said that state outlets represent the "conscience of the press."

Gabr said that these outlets mainly comprise of seven online news portals, including Al-Ahram's English-language portal and a soon-to-be-launched French-language portal.

When asked how the NPA will ensure that the media maintains objectivity, Gabr said that dialogue is the most important assurance of commitment from media outlets within criteria that adheres to the Egyptian constitution as well as the United Nations' programmes for running elections.

On how the NPA would handle non-adherence to the aforementioned guidelines, Gabr said that the NPA has the legal authority to communicate with outlets that fail to adhere, and that there is a committee to monitor published material.

"We want to present a model [for coverage] through state outlets, which play an important role, given that they represent the state and Egypt overall," Gabr said, stressing that the NPA in no way interferes in the editorial policies of news outlets.

Gabr also said that it is important not to report news obtained from social media without confirming its veracity.

"[Social media] is an open space with a strong presence of terrorist groups that wage wars of defamation in an effort to disrupt the [Egyptian] experience from its outset," Gabr said.

"I am not of the school that calls for responsible freedom, neither am I a proponent of the idea that 'he who is with me is a patriot, and he who is against me is a traitor'," Gabr said, stressing that what is needed is "freedom that adheres to the law."

When asked how state newspapers are to return to a prominent position, Gabr said that they must "return to their true owners" and to readers of all political orientations, especially considering that Egyptian society is witnessing major economic, political and social changes.

"A large part of journalism operates as if it is still in the sphere of the socialist union [of the 1960s], with the same headlines and the same leanings; believing that they are still in the era of mobilisation; this cannot continue," Gabr said.

"The world has changed; there is diversity in political opinion, with younger generation influenced by new worldwide political thoughts."

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