A Game Gone Wrong, a Media Gone Worse

Thu, Sep. 12, 2013
A football game turns into a massacre and causes media to forget all journalism ethics
By Nadine El Sayed
 Over the course of only three hours on Wednesday night, over 70 people died and 313 were wounded — not on a battlefield, not even in a political riot but in a premier league football game between Al Ahly and Al Masry in Port Said.I will not even begin to describe the disaster that was yesterday’s events in Port Said. We — along with the rest of the world watching us — have already realized by now just how utterly sad and enraging the turn a simple sports event has taken. I won’t start venting about the audience’s behavior, the lack of proper security or how on earth a football match could turn into a massacre in the first place. And I can’t get into the details of what happened because until now nobody really knows what exactly happened.But please allow me to vent about one thing: our dear old media. I am forced to point a finger at a media that keeps getting it wrong and adds fuel to fires, relying on no facts or basis at all. It is a media that has over the course of the past months made me ashamed to be part of it. The instant the spectators started charging onto the playing field in the closing minutes of the game, rumors started spreading right and left. Naturally, rumors do spread when such mortifying events take place, and the truth almost always gets lost during the first few hours amid the guesses, speculations and very few facts. But what shouldn’t be normal, and what shouldn’t be acceptable at all, is for the media to spread the rumors as facts and add fuel to an already raging fire. Instead of being a society watchdog that is supposed to report facts as facts and opinions as opinions, not to mention report stories from all the different angles, the media has once again turned into a grapevine for rumors, conspiracy theories and all sorts of unsubstantiated claims to spread like viruses. Adding fuel to the fire To start with, some media outlets immediately claimed that the violence was the Ministry of Interior’s revenge on the Ahly Ultras, the informal union for Ahly supporters. I am a fan of conspiracy theories, I’ll admit to that, but I still find it a tad bit hard to believe that any security body would orchestrate a riot and stampede killing 70 people, thus proving themselves a failure at their own jobs, just to take revenge on a group of football team supporters. Sadly, this wasn’t the only outlandish claim the media spread. Other commentators and talkshow hosts claimed the violence was the work of the April 6 movement and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. Seriously? Naturally, there have also been claims that the Port Said stadium incident was a deliberate stunt by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to prolong its period in power and reenforce emergency law — although technically the law is still in place to combat “thuggery.” And, as always, there were speculations this was orchestrated by former regime’s aides. Worst of all, however, were those rumors that incited viewers or readers against the people of Port Said and the supporters of Al Masry football team. The media grapevine What amazes me is how my media colleagues forgot just about everything we were ever taught about reporting and journalism. ‘Report fairly, objectively and do not editorialize media reports.’ It is rather simple; if someone is a suspect in a case, do not call them criminals as long as the judge hasn’t. If this is your opinion you’re voicing, make sure you don’t present it as a fact or a media report but rather as an editorial piece. One should think it is an easy guideline to follow, especially for media veterans whom people have come to trust and believe. So how does a respected media person go on air making claims based solely on personal judgments when they know perfectly well that the situation in Egypt is far from stable and people are already enraged enough? How can they make such claims with no facts whatsoever to base them on upon given that the events were still ongoing? And most important, how do they not respect the responsibility and sacredness of an unbiased, objective and, most of all, factual media message? To give just one example, media reports spread like wildfire that the newly appointed Head of Security in Port Said was suspiciously absent from the game. Only a couple of hours later — not to mention dozens of conspiracy theory rumors about his absence — eyewitnesses said he did attend the game. I am happy to report on conspiracy theories and not afraid to point fingers and lay blame on any deserving entity — just as long as I have facts to substantiate my claims. It is normal for people to speculate. What isn’t normal is media passing along speculations as facts, especially in turbulent times like the ones we’re facing at the moment. The written word is an influential one, a popular show host’s word is even more powerful for the masses who would rather watch news than read it. If media personalities don’t realize the huge responsibility that falls upon them, the country is truly in danger. Yes, yesterday’s events were utterly sad, and we are deeply pained by the tragic and senseless loss of life. But on a professional level, I am also deeply disappointed and worried about a media that keeps fueling people without so much as fact-checking the information they give out to an already angry public.
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