Egypt's State TV Has New Masters, But Old Habits The Egyptian revolution brought with it the hope that the media would no longer be a government mouthpiece. But according to critics, state television still takes orders from those running the country.
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Egypt's State TV Has New Masters, But Old Habits

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Egypt's State TV Has New Masters, But Old Habits

Egypt's State TV Has New Masters, But Old Habits

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Egyptians who helped topple their president are finding it isn't so easy to change the institutions that kept his government in power for 30 years. One example: state television. It was the unchallenged voice of the government during the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Those trying to bring about political change say the state network has changed its masters but not its methods. NPR's Corey Flintoff filed this report from Cairo.

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COREY FLINTOFF: Egyptian state television has changed since the revolution in January and February. Then, government TV anchors were denying that hundreds of thousands of ordinary Egyptians had taken to the streets to protest the repression and corruption of the Mubarak regime. Now, state TV talk shows host opposition figures, including members of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood. But state TV journalist Shahira Amin says the changes are mainly cosmetic.

Ms. SHAHIRA AMIN (TV journalist): It's the same editorial staff, the same anchors who sang the praises of the Mubarak regime and were part of the propaganda machine.

FLINTOFF: Amin spent more than 20 years as a reporter and anchor at Nile TV, the English language division of the state news agency. She caused a stir in February when she quit and joined the protestors in Cairo's Tahrir Square, publicly denouncing the network's news coverage. Amin rejoined Nile TV two months later, saying that she hoped to help reform the agency. Now she's disillusioned.

Ms. AMIN: Because it's the same mindset. They're still waiting for the directives to come, and they do come. They were coming before from the Interior Ministry and from the presidency. Now they're coming from the staff, the Supreme Military Council.

FLINTOFF: Amin says the situation is worse at state TV's Arabic channels, which the vast majority of Egypt's viewers used to watch.

Critics say state TV has ignored or played down certain stories, such as violence against Egypt's Coptic Christians. Earlier this month, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was barred from appearing on a State TV talk show. A state spokesperson said it was because the opposition figure is a presidential hopeful and the network is not yet ready to allow appearances by potential candidates. The network backed down after a public outcry.

Top officials at State TV insist that their policy is now more open. But the acting deputy director of Nile News said in a recent interview that the channel should have complete editorial independence from the government.

Pollster Ahmed Nagui Kamha says State TV lost the public's trust because of its role as a government mouthpiece during the revolution. He says viewers switched to international channels, such as Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera, as well as a host of independent Egyptian channels that sprang up after the revolution.

But Kamha, a researcher at Cairo's stated-owned al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says Egyptians have a historic tendency to support whatever government is in power. Ever since the days of the pharaohs, he says, Egypt has been a conservative society that looks to the government for direction. For that reason, Kamha says, there's a need for a news outlet that represents the state.

MR. AHMED NAGUI KAMHA (Center for Political and Strategic Studies): You need an official channel between the Egyptian people and their government. It's easy now to let the people watch private channels, but still they need to understand from official channels.

FLINTOFF: Kamha says the challenge now is not to disband State TV, but to reform it so that it reflects the values of a democratic society.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Cairo.

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