The phone line cracks and loud whirring noises can be heard in the background. Shahira Amin, the former Egyptian state TV anchor, is stuck in traffic on her way to interview the EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean researching reported crackdowns on NGOs in Egypt.
Amin made international headlines when she resigned from her prestigious post at state-run Nile TV a year ago over the network’s coverage of the Egyptian unrest. She walked out after being told to read press releases with no mention of the revolution happening on her doorstep.
“I wasn’t allowed to go out to Tahrir – and I thought, what’s the point of being a journalist if you can’t report the story when it’s in your own back yard? When it’s history being made and you’re not allowed to be part of it?” she said.
She thought the move would spell the end of her career, but she now continues to practice as a journalist, albeit freelance, rather than for a national broadcaster.
But she says a year on from the resignation of Honsi Mubarak and the collapse of his regime, journalists – women in particular – are still being deliberately targeted in a bid to censor impartial reporting.
Amin believes that in many cases the censorship of the media is worse than under the rule of Mubarak: editors are still advised how to report, investigations into news reports are still carried out and programmes are being reviewed before they are being aired.
“They are reviewing my programme before airing it – this wasn’t happening before,” she said.
“The military council is intimidating journalists. People get attacked and beaten. It’s the same old tactics, but even worse.”
The attacks, she says, are a means of intimidation by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
“It’s the journalists who get targeted – especially women journalists. They get sexually assaulted,” she said.
“Things don’t work the old way any more, so they [SCAF] are trying to keep the system as it is, trying to clamp down on journalists.”
What she has experienced bears similarities with the attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan the evening Mubarak stepped down. And in November of last year, two other foreign correspondents were also reportedly sexually assaulted. In November press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders issued a warning to female journalists trying to cover Tahrir Square.
The crackdown on journalists across North Africa and the Middle East has taken its toll. Egypt fell 39 places, to 166th, in the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2011. According to the report, the SCAF, in power since February, has “dashed the hopes of democrats by continuing the Mubarak dictatorship’s practices.”
And the International News Safety Institute ranked Egypt the 11th most deadly country in the world for journalists in 2011.
But Amin remains optimistic. She says that recently, a correspondent for a main Arabic news channel denounced state TV while reporting on a council election. And three weeks ago a sit-in at the Egyptian State TV building to protest the censorship of a documentary which professed to show brutality of security forces against protesters was successful. The documentary was aired the following night.
“It has been a year of emotional upheaval. One day you will feel really happy, the next you feel the restricted climate and it’s like banging your head against a brick wall,” says Amin.
Shahira Amin is a contributor to ‘No Woman’s Land: On the Frontlines with Female Reporters’, a collection of anecdotes and interviews by female journalists working in danger spots around the world. It is published by the International News Safety Institute and is being launched on 8 March, International Women’s Day.