Does Egypt want a free press like ours?


I was chatting to an Egyptian journalist, George al Masry, recently. He works for Al gomhuria, the state-owned Egyptian daily newspaper and has been active in the Tahrir Square revolution.

He is now helping to establish a free press in a country where the media has been heavily controlled.

He had just read one of my law updates, where I mentioned that a new European Union directive on data retention enabled 795 public bodies to request journalists’ phone records going back a year.

Authorities ranging from the police to the Food Standards Agency and local councils to the Charity Commission can access numbers called, the times of calls, and even the rough location of a mobile phone user when the call was made. To combat terrorism. Of course.

George said: “In Egypt our phones are only tapped by the state security and the intelligence presidency. But your phone records can be accessed by more than 700 organisations. Wow!!”

I began to wonder who lived with the most restrictions. So did he!

I told him about UK photographer Stuart Littleford’s treatment at the hands of Greater Manchester Police. He reminded me how police in Egypt opened Time magazine photographer Yury Kozyrev’s camera and confiscated her memory card.

I’m not saying that journalists in the UK are experiencing anything like the treatment being meted out in Egypt.

But it does make you realise that there is a very thin line between democracy and a military state.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law

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