In the media’s wall-to-wall Egypt coverage, one important facet of the ongoing crisis has gotten short shrift: the deadly plight of that nation’s Christians. The three broadcast networks in particular have buried the anti-Christian violence, devoting just 5 percent of Egypt reporting to it since last week. Six days ago, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohammed Morsi launched what some are calling a “pogrom” and “jihad” against Egypt’s Christian population.
Violence against Egypt’s Christian minority is nothing new. Nor is the media’s disinterest in it. But in the last week, that violence suddenly escalated to epidemic levels.
On Wednesday, Aug. 14, the Egyptian military cleared out areas of Cairo where Muslim Brotherhood supporters were staging sit-ins, resulting in violence and hudreds dead. Islamists across Egypt immediately scapegoated Christians, who had backed the military’s ouster of Morsi. Somewhere between 60 and 80 churches convents and schools have been looted and torched across the country, along with scores of Christian businesses and homes. Christian clergy and laymen have been beaten and killed, and church officials are on assassination lists. The Wall Street Journal cited Human Rights Watch, saying that four people had been killed in the attacks.
Websites and Facebook pages blame Christians for Morsi’s fall and charge them with wanting to drive Islam from Egypt. With police and the military often unable or unwilling to protect them according to both the Journal and The Washington Post, Christians have been staying indoors and out of sight. Shops are closed and food has run short in some areas. Churches and monasteries have cancelled services – in one case, for the first time in 1,600 years. Some of the oldest Christian congregations in the world are under siege.
But since Thursday, August 15, the networks’ morning and evening news programs have given the anti-Christian attacks just 5 minutes, 41 seconds of the 1 hour, 54 minutes of broadcast time they’ve spent covering Egypt. Upwards of 15 percent of Egypt’s population is in grave danger from sectarian violence, and ABC, CBS and NBC devote just five percent of their Egypt coverage to it.
To their credit, ABC and NBC each aired one thorough report on the anti-Christian violence, showing the burned out churches and featuring interviews with Christians. Unfortunately, the rest of their coverage has been perfunctory at best.
CBS gave the subject a mere 15 seconds, presented almost as an afterthought. On the Aug. 15 “CBS Morning News,” correspondent Alex Ortiz told host Anne-Marie Green, “The other thing that happened last night following the crackdown was the wave of attacks – thousands attacked Christian homes and churches. So Egypt is very much on edge as we wait to see how this plays out, with many fearing the worst.”
Green went on to tell viewers that “among the 235 civilians killed yesterday in Egypt were three journalists. Sixty-one-year-old Vick Dean was a cameraman for the British broadcaster Sky News. He was shot to death while covering events in the capitol. A 26-year-old reporter for the Gulf News was also killed as was an Egyptian journalist who worked for the state-run newspaper.” CBS clearly has its priorities.
That same day, CBS “Evening News” ran a 3-minute, 22-second report from correspondent Charlie D’Agata in Cairo. In it, D’Agata went into a mosque serving as a makeshift morgue for pro-Morsi protestors killed in the crackdown. He spoke extensively to a Florida native whose brother was killed. The camera showed dozens of bodies. It was a good report, and if D’Agata and CBS were interested, he could do just as good a job showing viewers the horrors that have befallen innocent Christians.
On Aug. 18’s ABC “World News Sunday,” Christians had to share a report with inanimate objects. Correspondent Muhammad Lila said, “With the country on edge, Christians, who make up about 15 percent of the population, nervously made their way to Sunday service. Even the country’s priceless antiquities haven’t been spared. At one of Egypt's national museums, shattered glass, an ancient sarcophagus damaged and priceless statues destroyed.” Lila might have noted that some of the burned churches dates to the 5th Century, qualifying them as priceless antiquities, one would think.
The networks’ neglect comes even as the military-back Egyptian government has been criticizing Western media reporting on the government actions. And it comes despite pleas from Egyptian Christian officials for the Western media to tell the story – or at least get it right. Coptic Pope Tawadros II issued a statement condemning “false broadcast by Western media.” Tawadros demanded that reporting be “objective,” unlike what he saw as sympathetic coverage of “blood-thirsty radical organizations,” like the Brotherhood and its supporters. “Instead of legitimizing them with global support and political coverage while they are trying to wreak havoc and destruction upon our beloved land,” said the pope, “report all events truthfully and accurately.”
It remains to be seen if the networks will heed his call. Perhaps if a TV news camera team were to be caught in a burning church …