Verdict against Egyptian TV presenter Riham Saeed paves way for media accountability - activists

Tuesday 01-03-2016 08:14 PM

A screenshot of TV anchor Riham al-Saeed on al-Nahar private TV channel

CAIRO, Mar 1 (Aswat Masriya) - Egyptian human rights activists said that the prison sentence issued against a TV anchorwoman for airing personal photos of a guest without her permission paves the way for establishing a code of media ethics.

An Egyptian misdemeanor court sentenced Riham Saeed on Monday to one year and six months in prison on charges of defamation and infringement of personal privacy.

She was handed down a six-month sentence and fined EGP 10,000 (around $1,277) for the former charge; and a one-year sentence and a fine of EGP 15,000 (around $1,916) for the latter.  

The sentence is subject to appeal.

The incident dates back to October 2015 when Saeed interviewed a young woman, Somaya Tarek, on her TV show Sabaya al-Kheir. During the interview, Tarek said that she was "harassed" by her assaulter and that when she threatened to call security, he followed her and slapped her.

On her show, Saeed appeared to defend the man and blame the woman, implying that Tarek "has brought it on herself.” She showed personal photos of Tarek, including ones of her on the beach, without her knowledge. In the context of alleged harassment, displaying these photos seemed to implicate the victim.

The incident triggered social media uproar at the time as Facebook and twitter users called for the suspension of Saeed's show and putting the TV anchorwoman on trial.

A crime of a special nature

Former Director of the Cairo-based al-Haqaniya human rights centre, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, welcomed the verdict, stressing that "Saeed committed a crime of a special nature as she defended the harasser and justified and incited harassment."

In June 2014, then-interim president Adly Mansour issued a presidential decree amending articles in the Penal Code, which expanded the definition of the crime of sexual harassment and enforced harsher punishment for its perpetrators.

"Some media figures abuse their programmes as they use them as a means to defame others and violate their privacy," Abdel Aziz added, affirming that this was no longer acceptable.

Abdel Aziz further clarified that there is a difference between freedom of opinion and freedom of expression on the one hand and violating the privacy of individuals or public figures on the other hand, stressing that the verdict acts as a "deterrent" to such crimes.

Director of the Cairo Center for Development, Entesar al-Saeed, considered the verdict a "positive step" and encouraged state authorities to take measures against those who defame and insult others or violate their privacy.

"The verdict opens the door for the launching of a media code of ethics," al-Saeed stated, anticipating that programmes will undergo self-censorship with regards to any form of abuse that involves insulting individuals.

"I spent my years serving this country" 

Riham Saeed commented on the verdict on her Facebook page saying, "Today my country has honoured me, after 13 years of serving people, and after … establishing a school for children with special needs, and treating thousands of children... I spent my years serving this country."

"I never meant to defame anyone... there is no such thing as protecting people’s reputation in the media but I have refrained from saying anything until now... sometimes the truth is actually a scandal."

(This article was translated into English by Nourhan Fahmy.)

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