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A blunder in Maspero
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 27 - 09 - 2016

The head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), Safaa Hegazi, has dismissed Mustafa Shehata, head of state television's news department, for broadcasting an old interview with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who was in New York for the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, instead of a recent interview recorded last week.
During his stay in New York, Al-Sisi was interviewed by the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network for the second consecutive year.
On Tuesday last week ERTU aired Al-Sisi's interview with PBS's chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner conducted on 28 September 2015, when the state-run Channel 1 should have broadcast a newer interview with host Charlie Rose on 19 September 2016. The wrong interview was on the air for nearly 10 minutes before the broadcast was halted when staff realised the mistake.
“The Radio and Television Union apologises for the grave mistake made by the news department,” the ERTU said in a statement issued last week. The statement added that due to the error it subsequently decided to sack Shehata as head of the department.
Following Shehata's dismissal, Hegazi, who runs state television, ordered his deputy Khaled Mehanna in his place.
“Mehanna will take office until a new chief is appointed,” the statement added.
Hegazi later apologised for the “grave mistake” and said an investigation was underway to identify those responsible.
Egypt's administrative prosecution was reported on Friday to have opened an investigation with TV officials over the presidential interview blunder.
Shehata described the mix-up as a “gross error”. He said the mistake was made due to a “change in shifts”. He blamed the mistake on Nihal Aref, the person in charge of co-ordination, who has been suspended and questioned.
“State TV was not airing Al-Sisi's speech at the UN. It broadcast it via the websites of satellite channels that air General Assembly events. The interview was aired by mistake after accessing the PBS website,” he added.
The blunder has stirred controversy in the media community while sarcastic comments filled social media.
Nihal Rizq, media officer at the US embassy in Cairo, posted on Facebook, saying, “What a loss. It's a scandal that you air the president's interview with Margaret Warner of last year as if it's the new interview made yesterday with Charlie Rose.” Rizq added, “The problem is that other websites took it from Egyptian TV, making the scandal more complicated.”
The gaffe drew heavy criticism from the anchors of pro-Sisi private television channels. For Abeer Al-Saadi, former vice president of the Press Syndicate, such anti-ERTU criticism following the incident raised concerns, notably a campaign by rich pro-government businessmen aiming to hold sway over the media.
“The mistake occurred and requires an investigation and accountability, but the way that public TV, which is supposedly owned by the people, was attacked is suspicious because it dovetails with the rise of pro-regime monopolies owned by businessmen,” Al-Saadi was quoted as saying by Al-Arabiya. She added that firing the head of the news sector without further investigation gave a false impression of justice.
Several talk show anchors attacked ERTU after the blunder, describing it as “a temple of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood”. Pro-Al-Sisi anchor Ahmed Moussa said in his show on Sada Al-Balad that there were countless patriotic Egyptians at Maspero but also pockets of terrorists, and that engineers and technicians were the most dangerous among them. “The building is a temple of the [outlawed] Muslim Brotherhood,” Moussa said.
MP and TV anchor Mustafa Bakri said in his TV show on the same private channel that a campaign “to cleanse” Maspero was underway, and an emergency meeting of parliament's media committee had been scheduled to call for an investigation into the interview flop.
“There are [Brotherhood] elements inside Maspero who were appointed during the tenure of information minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud when the Brotherhood was in power, and others appointed prior to that, in addition to organisations that are enemies of the state, like the 6 April movement and revolutionary socialists,” Bakri added.


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