Foreign Ministry: No West Africa travel ban; MENA Ebola story false
Badr Abdel Atty - YOUM7/Sami Waheeb

CAIRO: A news story first reported by the state-owned MENA news agency about a new Egyptian travel warning to Ebola “afflicted” countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and parroted by a number of Egyptian Arabic language newspapers, has been refuted and denied by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

“Please ignore such statements,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Badr Abdel Atty told The Cairo Post Sunday. “It is inaccurate news.”

MENA reported Saturday that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry warned of travelling to seven “Ebola-afflicted” countries in West Africa. The countries were Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Ivory Coast, Togo and Senegal. MENA cited Foreign Ministry Consulate and Expatriate Affairs Deputy Hossam Essa as the source of the information.

At first the travel warning may seem logical. Many countries are in fact discussing travel bans to the region to contain the spread of an Ebola outbreak that is believed to have already killed over 4,500 people across several countries—the largest known outbreak of the disease ever. However, of the countries confirmed to have had cases of Ebola in the latest outbreak—which likely originated in Guinea in late 2013—Ivory Coast, Togo and Angola are not among them.

Ivory Coast does share borders with afflicted countries, but Angola is 2,000 kilometers away from the nearest afflicted area, and tiny Togo is safely wedged between fellow unaffected countries Benin and Ghana.

Furthermore, Senegal’s one known case of Ebola was contained, the infected individual did not die, and the WHO has declared the country Ebola-free. This means that there are actually more known active Ebola cases at present in Spain and the United States than there are in four of the seven countries MENA claimed were subject to the travel warning.

Ostensibly, the claimed travel ban does not make sense, but is it possible MENA was in good faith merely repeating incorrect information from an otherwise reliable government official in Essa?

Not according to Essa, who told The Cairo Post Sunday he had no idea where the information came from, or how it was attributed to him.

“I am not responsible for that comment to the media,” he said, adding that Abdel Atty’s earlier comments were accurate.

Ebola error follows New York Times-Al-Ahram controversy 

The state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram mistranslated an article published originally in The New York Times on Oct. 7 that was actually critical of Egyptian media reactions towards President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly earlier in October. The Al-Ahram version depicted the New York Times article as actually praising Sisi.

The New York Times responded to the Al-Ahram article, which actually garnered an apology in the English edition of Al-Ahram, but the paper defended its actions and blamed MENA for the error in the Arabic edition.

“MENA telecast on Oct. 8 a brief about [New York Times writer David] Kirkpatrick’s article under the title ‘Egyptians enjoy stability… Sisi fort against chaos.’ A majority of known newspapers and online websites published MENA’s story, which was published in Al-Ahram in the printed issue the following day. This pushed us to make a mistake, and the agency (MENA) is at fault,” the article read in Arabic.

Al-Ahram’s original story never mentioned it was taken from MENA or even had the agency in the byline, and MENA issued a response to Al-Ahram on Oct. 18 asking it to “abide by the simplest professional rules.”

‘It is difficult to rely on most Egyptian media’

“In general, the Egyptian professional level and media treatment is retreating right now, and currently, many different media outlets make mistakes of accuracy, balance and neutrality,” columnist and journalist Yasser Abdel Azizi said in remarks to The Cairo Post Sunday.

Abdel Azizi noted that due to editorial policies in some media outlets, some news pieces are being deviated to serve “specific situations.”

“In general, it is difficult to rely on most Egyptian media outlets at the current time to get credible information or build solid analysis,” he added.

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