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Egypt sets up hotline to tackle ‘fake news’ just two weeks before elections

CAIRO: Egypt’s judiciary announced Monday it has set up a hotline to gather complaints of “fake” news in the traditional or electronic media that could pose a threat to national security.

Two weeks ahead of elections in Egypt, the media have been under close scrutiny, with an increase in cases of journalists being arrested and websites blocked.

“The Egyptian judiciary has set aside mobile telephone numbers to receive complaints on the instant messaging app WhatsApp and by SMS, so long as the name of the complainant and their personal details are given,” it said in a statement.

It said the initiative was aimed against “premeditated fake information damaging to national security and the country’s interests”.

The country’s top prosecutor on 28 February urged action against media outlets found to be publishing “false news”.

Commenting on the prosecutor’s statement, a foreign freelance journalist who has been covering Egypt for three years told MEE: “The general prosecutor’s recent statement is the latest in a string of warnings and threats directed towards the media over the past few years.”

“This one is perhaps the most concerning because it was from a very high ranking and powerful official,” added the journalist who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being prosecuted.

“Often the warnings are implicit and subtle, but with this statement, we can make no mistake that what we write and say will be monitored.”

Earlier in March, Egypt’s government press centre called for officials and prominent individuals to boycott the BBC over a report on human rights it said was false.

The public prosecutor also ordered the detention of a woman interviewed by the BBC in a recent report that sparked controversy, alleging in a statement that she had committed the offence of spreading “false news”.

Reporters Without Borders had warned that Egyptian authorities are trying to muzzle criticism from foreign media outlets after silencing local journalists.

 

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