The fact that respected Western media outlets insist on calling 30 June a “coup” is as delusional as Morsi saying he is legitimate. But beyond that, there is a story to be considered on how the Western media constructs the “realities” of the Middle East and how we perceive of media freedom.

The fact that respected Western media outlets insist on calling 30 June a “coup” is as delusional as Morsi saying he is legitimate. But beyond that, there is a story to be considered on how the Western media constructs the “realities” of the Middle East and how we perceive of media freedom.

It started with an inset box on the screen of CNN and their choice of the word “military coup”: Western – and particularly US media – began notoriously biased coverage of the 30 June revolution in Egypt.  Highlights along the road were Economist headline “Egypt’s Tragedy” while Time said the “coup” showed Egypt was “unraveling” and NPR started reporting on the “post-coup”.

To be fair, it must have been very upsetting to everyone within the Western press core that Egyptians were once again defying the stereotypes. At one point these were, “Egyptians are apolitical and apathetic.” Well, I guess not. Then there is the other carefully constructed stereotype that has come into maturity since the January 25 Revolution:  “Egyptians are conservative and want a conservative Islamic regime under the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The fact that this might not be true is a particularly bitter pill to swallow when you consider how much effort was put into creating the post-9/11 “reality”: that Arabs are crazed mullahs leading American-hating, blood thirsty mobs. An argument which feeds into the brilliance of the Muslim Brotherhood option: a political force that will play ball, protect Israel’s interests and give the local population what they want.

For years, Western media filtered out much of local dissenting views to the narrative. And then millions take to the street day after day, young political actors bombard our public space with articulate arguments against tyranny and the will of the victorious, the man on the street tells us he is sick of being told how to be a good Muslim. These happenings shatter the idea in the West, and particularly the US administration and media, has conjured with regards our “cultural specificity”.

The story of Egypt’s permanent revolution is a complex one steeped in nuance. Any independent media outlet should ask the questions: What role the old and corrupt regime played in current events, including its brutal ministry of interior. What role was played by the army and intelligence agencies.  Is the closure of extremist Islamist channels a violation of press freedoms? What happened at the premises of the Republican Guard?

But to get the answers straight you need to be able to understand the context – without the nuance, the reporting becomes flat and often misleading. It should come as a surprise to no one that not many Western journalists are very sophisticated in dealing with foreign news. Anyone who has worked with foreign correspondents in our part of the world will agree that “not at all sophisticated” might be a more accurate description.

Many United States “foreign correspondents” have used the services of a local “fixer” (or “babysitter” as the “locals” now call it), who tell the correspondents who to talk to, give them basic facts and translate, to the best of their ability, an otherwise indecipherable language, culture, society and economic/political context.

In the aftermath of 9/11 I worked as a fixer and will never forget one of my clients who after announcing that he was “no stranger to the region,” asked, “Where is the terrorist neighborhood in town?” True story.

There are, of course, the exceptions; they merely prove the rule.

The shortcomings in Western foreign coverage also need to be understood within a wider context of cost and priorities within news organizations. With cost cutting – and even before – foreign reporting is an expensive endeavor, one the mainstream has issues coping with and one which alternative media voices can’t afford.

Which brings us to the point of the inaccuracy of lumping all “Western” media in one basket. The United States is a large, disparate country with many people and many viewpoints. The challenge – even in US domestic news coverage – is often finding these voices and amplifying them.  Thus, the problem with the US media system is that mainstream distribution is tightly controlled by a few, huge, centralized corporations (with obvious implications beyond poor foreign coverage) to the point that on this side of our world we can’t see the diversity.

The Western media sees itself as free, provocative and intelligent. We think so too. And some great reporting and analysis of events since June 30 have been reported and published by US Media such as Blame Morsy in Foreign Policy and After the Shooting in Cairo in The New Yorker. It remains, however, that as the Middle East shows itself to be a lot more complex than initially bargained for, newsrooms need to consider that investing in the truth and the tools needed to get it, has never been more important.

We could also learn a lesson or two. The backlash amongst Egyptians against biased coverage was almost instantaneous: hash tags on twitter and an online shaming petition against CNN signed to date by over 45,000 people were among its manifestations.

But let us consider also that barring journalists from access to the story is never a good idea. You can’t really blame someone for not telling it as it is if you make sure they can’t. In the aftermath of June 30, authorities have targeted freedom of the movement of journalists – military barricades across roads leading to the Muslim Brotherhood demonstration prevented journalists from covering the events. As CNN reporter Ben Wedeman was doing a live report from Tahrir square, he was cut short by soldiers who confiscated his camera. Dirk Emmerech, a German reporter for RTL television, and his crew were detained as they were covering the MB demonstration and held for seven hours. At a press conference on July 8, the army’s spokesman urged “non-Egyptians” including journalists to stay away from demonstrations and military buildings.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF): “News media such as CNN and Al-Jazeera that describe Morsi’s removal as a “military coup” are being subjected to intimidation and censorship by the interim authorities. Several foreign journalists have reported feeling in danger as they continue to work.”

Egyptian media is highly polarized on political grounds, which often compromises the quality and balance of reporting. We have been taken unawares by reality on the ground as well but we have the most at stake if we do not find out the truth about ourselves.

And as we struggle to unravel that truth after years of oppression – discovering along the way that important components of our identity are a joy of life, a deep sense of humanism and an innate will to take our place in the modern world – let us also not forget that for our journalism to do its job, it must not fall into the pitfalls of those we criticize.