How Mainstream Media Lose Their Reputation – #Fakenews On Iran And Egypt

Moon of Alabama — Jan 8, 2018

The “western” media like to rant against fake news. But they are indeed the biggest provider of such.

Yesterday the British news agency Reuters claimed: Iran bans English in primary schools after leader’s warning

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has banned the teaching of English in primary schools, a senior education official said, after the country’s Supreme Leader said early learning of the language opened the way to a Western “cultural invasion”.

Khamenei indeed has made such a remark, early learning of a foreign language opens the people to influence through that language. That conclusion is not particularly controversial. But has Iran really banned the teaching of English in primary schools? Why would any non-English country teach English in primary school in the first place? And why would especially Iran do so?

Ali Ahmadi, an Iranian analyst, asked the same question:

Who in Iran studied English in primary schools? Nat curriculum calls for English to be taught from 7th grade to graduation.

The British-Iranian journalist Sanam Shantyaei offers her personal experience:

I was in Iran until 5th grade, and I don’t recall being taught neither Arabic nor English (though that’s a long long time ago.) I picked up a little in private tutorials: “the elegant is big. The ant is little.”

Ahmadi confirms:

Yes, 7th grade is the norm. They don’t even start teaching Arabic usually until 6th grade – except for a little in the context of religion classes.

So, according to Reuters, Iran “banned” something from its school curriculum that was not and is not in there. The Reuters piece quotes an Iranian official who does not confirm what Reuters alleges:

“Teaching English in government and non-government primary schools in the official curriculum is against laws and regulations,” Mehdi Navid-Adham, head of the state-run High Education Council, told state television late on Saturday.

The official only confirms that the official curriculum is binding. As the English language is not in the official primary school curriculum it cannot be taught as part of that curriculum. It is a banal statement: “Yes, the relevant regulations apply as the always have applied.” How Reuters can construe that into a new “ban” is beyond me.

But as most readers will only skim the headlines and probably the first sentence of such pieces the British agency will have achieved the intended anti-Iranian propaganda effect.

Another piece of fake news is a recent New York Times report about an alleged Egyptian acceptance of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. It is based on some mysterious tapes in which an alleged Egyptian government intelligence agent tells TV moderators what they are supposed to say about Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The story is headlined: Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders’ Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move

As President Trump moved last month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an Egyptian intelligence officer quietly placed phone calls to the hosts of several influential talk shows in Egypt.

“Like all our Arab brothers,” Egypt would denounce the decision in public, the officer, Capt. Ashraf al-Kholi told the hosts.

But strife with Israel was not in Egypt’s national interest, Captain Kholi said. He told the hosts that instead of condemning the decision, they should persuade their viewers to accept it.

“How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?” Captain Kholi asked repeatedly in four audio recordings of his telephone calls obtained by The New York Times.

The first hint that this report, or at least the tapes it is based on, are murky is the relatively low rank of the officer. An intelligence captain in Egypt may be responsible for a county or a small city. Briefing of national news entities would surely require some higher ranking person, probably in the rank of colonel. The question “How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah?” is also curious. The differences are huge and obvious in their historic and religious implication. It seems very unlikely that the Egyptian government would ever take such a position.

The NYT lists the following “hosts of several influential talk shows” that were called by the alleged intelligence official: Azmi Megahed, Mofid Fawzy and Saeed Hassaseen. A fourth call went to an “Egyptian singer and actress known as Yousra.”

Egyptian sources say that none of the above persons is of particular fame or relevance. The actress is well known but not as TV host or for any political engagement.

The report notes that the audio of the calls:

.. were all provided to The Times by an intermediary supportive of the Palestinian cause and opposed to President Sisi. The origin of the recordings could not be determined.

The tapes were first mentioned by the Muslim Brotherhood TV station Mekameleen TV which is based in Istanbul. But how would the Brotherhood acquire such tapes, if they are real, from the inside of the Egyptian intelligence service? If it had such a source why would it expose it now?

Only one of the people called, Azmi Megahed, confirmed the call to the NYT. The others denied it or could not be reached. The NYT did not find or reach the alleged intelligence captain.

Some calls seem to have happened, but were they really official calls by the Egyptian government entity or a prank?

The NY Times never asks that question. It takes and reports the tapes as a real expression of the Egyptian government position and then goes on to speculate from there.

An editorial in Egypt Today checks the NTY claims and finds that only one in four persons therein is an active TV host:

Of those mentioned in the article, Megahed is the only one who currently presents a talk show, which focuses on sports and current affairs in Egypt. Al-Malaf airs on the Al-‘Amsa satellite channel.

However, Megahed has promptly rejected these reports.

[A]fter running a timeline search on Megahed’s stance toward the US’s move on Jerusalem, we found that on December 6, he said, “I am sad that the Arab states did nothing against the US administration’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” On December 11, Megahed on his talk show hailed Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church’s rejection of Trump’s decision.

The Egyptian State Information Service (SIS) strongly rebuked the NYT claims:

[T]he four persons mentioned are Mofid Fawzy who stopped working on TV for years, Parliamentarian Said Hassassein who stopped working on TV for months, Azmy Megahed, and actress Yousra who never presented any talk shows.

The SIS statement also noted that the New York Times story did not provide any evidence that the so-called Ashraf El Kholy is an intelligence officer. Third, the story made claims regarding Egypt’s stance on the Jerusalem cause based on these alleged leaks which strikingly contradict the statements and moves on the international scale taken by the Egyptian state, the president, and the minister of foreign affairs.

Peter Cairo, who is an anti-government commentator in Egypt, finds that the NYT report is fake news. The liberal Egyptian exile Nervana Mahmoud, also not a particular friend of the current Egyptian government, agrees:

Folks, Egyptian intelligence is not that dumb to assume an actress like Youssra can change public opinion on Jerusalem

The Muslim Brotherhood TV station in Istanbul is now airing the tapes. But it does not provide any evidence that the alleged intelligence captain exists or of Egyptian government involvement.

Samer Al-Atrush, a journalist in Cairo who writes for AFP and other media, has listened to the tapes:

The recordings aired be Mekameleen of a supposed military intel officer instructing journos and actress to support Trump Jerusalem decision are a bit odd. None (at least the versions they uploaded on youtube) start at the beginning of the calls. You get the sense 2 recipients at least had never spoken to him before and just went along with it. Yousra response was funny, basically: yeah yeah, of course, we denounce it any way I’m at a festival whatsapp me. Megahed was Megahed, as anyone who’s called him can attest: half listens and half digests what you say, then talks over you. I’m not going to really comment on tone and delivery of caller but let’s just say either he’s a fraud setting up these people or someone let the intern have a go at shaping opinion on Jerusalem.

The NYT reports the calls on the tapes as evidence for a secret Egyptian government position. But its “hosts several influential talk shows” turn out not be such. Except one of the four they have not be on air and have no public influence. How come the NYT did not check that fact? The alleged captain of the Egyptian intelligence does not seem to exist at all and the content of the calls is highly contradictory to the position of the Egyptian government and people.

The report is fake news, based on what is likely the product of a prank caller instigated by the Muslim Brotherhood or an adversarial foreign intelligence service which wants to slander the Egyptian government. Like the fake news Reuters piece, it will further undermine the public trust in mainstream media.

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