Manipulative journalism

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 9 Jan 2018

Though journalists want to come across as impartial, it is generally acknowledged that this is not the case; indeed, journalists, being human, are almost always prejudiced and intent on swaying readers one way or another

I have come to know much about manipulative journalistic measures: I read between the lines and infer where a journalist is going with an argument, and, I, shrewdly if I may add, can anticipate the tone, voice, and scope of media outlets. More importantly, I have come to realize that some journalists work relentlessly against Egypt and are unabashed about that hatred.

It is apparent that most western media are against the current Egyptian regime. Some uphold democracy, human rights, and legislative channels over security and development. Others may be misguided, manipulated, or uninformed. While many others are part of a bigger scheme to thwart Egypt’s improvement opportunity.

We will never know the real cause behind the animosity of western journalists towards the current regime, but here is how they manufacture antagonism against -- if not dissent -- in Egypt, and lead the western reader, and the Egyptian one for that matter, into seeing a picture of their own making as far as Egypt is concerned.


Word Usage

Journalists use words that imply deception or inaccuracy. The verb "alleges" in particular is perpetually embedded in articles to distort facts.

When a journalist writes, “The regime in Egypt ‘alleges’ that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind the attacks,” the reader assumes the Egyptian regime is lying. When he says, Morsi is “under indictment for ‘allegedly’ breaking out of prison during the 2011 revolt,” it implies Morsi did not break of out prison. “Egypt confiscates assets of 16 ‘alleged’ Muslim Brotherhood Members” sheds doubt on these persons’ identities. This is why journalistic pieces on Egypt are doused with the verb “allege” for the sole reason of confusing the reader and blurring truths.

Another interesting verb is "to claim." “The government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi ‘claims’ the Brotherhood is resorting to violence,” misguides readers into believing the government has neither evidence nor proof.

And another confusing phrase is "they said," or "it is said that." So, "Egyptian security forces killed several MB members ‘they said’ were terrorists in Cairo," implies dubious and not verified information.

The passive voice comes in handy, too. The “manifestation of the deeply troubling way the Egyptian judiciary ‘has been used’ as a tool to settle political disagreements.” “Has been used” by whom? Obviously authorities.

Or better yet, they use directive adjectives “Actually, Egypt Is a Terrible Ally” does not imply but clearly states that Egypt is unable to fulfill its role as an ally. Or “It was 29 June 2013, the day before ‘much-hyped’ demonstrations that were expected to give the Egyptian military the cover they needed to sweep Morsi from power” explicitly states that the demonstrations against Morsi were a mere facade to get the military in power again.

And by continuing to call the terrorists in Sinai "militants" and Sinai attacks "insurgencies," western media give the terrorists a right of way. Imagine how repugnant it would have been for the citizens in Paris and Brussels if the terrorists were called militants.

Words are powerful and manipulative, and western media use them craftily to mislead.


Repetitive techniques

Another tool in the manipulative process is to keep repeating the same notion, again and again, until the reader finally accepts it as a given.

The majority of western media refers to ex-president Morsi as the "first civilian president" giving ex-President Morsi a justified presence forever. Regardless of whether the articles need the reference or not, phrases such as “Egypt’s first democratically elected leader,” “the country’s first free elections in which Mohamed Morsi was elected president” are repeated in all articles about Egypt.

“To describe Friday’s horrific gun and bomb assault on a Sufi mosque in the northern Sinai Peninsula as the deadliest attack by armed militants (rather than the state) in Egypt’s modern history understates it.” In this sentence, an irrelevant off-topic lie, "rather than the state,” is embedded. Then it refers to the sadistic terrorists as mere "armed militants." Finally, it implies that the state has done that sort of action before — killed praying Egyptians.

Such twisted information is repeated again and again until some assume it true.


Empathy for westerners

A dicey but manipulative technique is utilised when western journalists defend charged and detained westerners, assuming that, by being a westerner, the person cannot inflict terror or incite chaos. To this effect, western journalists play on the notion of national allegiance, so a detained Egyptian American must be a victim who should never have landed in prison. “American among nearly 40 sentenced to life in prison for Egypt protest” or “Cairo judge sentences Egyptian American to life in prison” demands rage from the western reader and depicts Egyptians as insensitive and unjustified in their judgments.


Grabby headlines

Journalists or their copy-editors use headlines to antagonise and sensationalise. Here are a mere few of such headlines: “Egypt goes from bad to worse: under President Sisi,” “How Egyptian media has become a mouthpiece for the military state,” “Egypt’s Illegitimate President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi,” “Egypt’s Lost Islands, Sisi’s Shame,” and “Egypt's president is a bloodthirsty dictator.”

Though I find the wording in the above headlines farcical, that is what complicit collusion with those who hate Egypt is.


Highlighting the negative

Western journalists wait in the wings for a goof up, an inadvertent mistake, or a slip of a tongue about Egypt to bring it to the limelight. One can visualize them rubbing their hands in glee as they pounce on their prey: Egypt and its officials. “The fate of 'deported' Egyptian presidential hopeful remains uncertain” exemplifies such an opportunity. Or “how Egyptian officers brutally kill unarmed civilians in Sinai,” building the story on a fake video that aired on an MB channel.

They also focus on trivial sugar shortages, neither-here-nor-there incidences, and mediocre sources.

And once these media outlets err, they never correct their mistakes, so their faulty messages last forever.


Dimming the positives

Why focus on the positive? Aggravate, infuriate, and generate antagonism, but turn a blind eye to any good. Western media neglect to mention the projects inaugurated daily, the new cities around Egypt — the new Alamein, Mansourah, Ismailia, the expansive road network encompassing all of Egypt, and the efforts exerted in economic development. These positive matters are not sensational enough and would contradict the vision they want to establish.

To the credit of Egyptian authorities, none of these journalists were questioned, hassled, or detained. They all happily reside in Egypt while taking it upon themselves to "inform" the world of what happens in Egypt, with a twist, of course.

And that’s the way it should be, since those who lead Egypt are on a mission to improve and develop the country. This chit chat does not construe much to them.

Egypt will continue to weather storms and turbulences — nothing new in that - but western media will neither make nor break this new Egypt.

The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: The First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.




Short link: