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Editor in Chief

Egypt's Threat to the Media

Categories: Canada, Journalism, World


Three journalists of the Al-Jazeera English network who were convicted of terrorism-related charges in an Egyptian court this week.

As the Editor-in-chief of CBC News, there are a couple of things I never take for granted: what we do matters, and the fact we are free to do it is critically important to how a healthy democracy functions.

And that's what makes this week's events in Egypt so discouraging.

You have no doubt seen the news already: three journalists from the Al-Jazeera English network were sentenced to at least seven years in prison for terrorism-related charges. The Egyptian judicial system produced the verdict, though pretty much everyone who works in the world of journalism would say that the only thing the men were guilty of was practicing the act of reporting and broadcasting.

The story has taken on added significance in this country because one of the men, Mohamed Fahmy, is a dual citizen of both Egypt and Canada.

There are several layers of controversy that have ensued - about the fairness of the trial, about the level of freedom in Egypt, about the reaction of other governments. At the heart of all of them are twin imperatives: freedom of expression, and an independent media.

Around the world, journalists face all sorts of challenges. The economics are less secure than before. The relationship with competitors and the audience has changed. The free flow of information is under constant threat by those who would prefer that light not be shone on their actions. But none of that is as fundamental to justice, to freedom and to decency as the principle that journalists should be allowed to learn information and share it with an audience.

The former BBC reporter Peter Greste, former CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed were not, as the charges would suggest, attempting to tarnish Egypt's international reputation. To jail journalists for reporting facts in a balanced way amid a tense period is a tactic that only serves to prevent a better understanding of the issues at stake.

CBC News will continue to report on this story. And we will do so in a fair, balanced way - not as advocates for the journalists, which would undermine our own standards and practices. But make no mistake, we are very concerned by the message that Egypt has sent to journalists around the globe.

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