Shutting down the Internet is bad, shutting down journalists is worse.

UPDATE: Anderson Cooper and two AP correspondents were beaten today in Egypt. Their stories are reported in the US  because they are Americans, but other journalists of other nationalities are being arrested, deported and abducted.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know everyone in Cairo right now is in danger. But because I’ve been a reporter, I sympathize with them. And of course, when journalists are attacked, the flow of information from Cairo to the rest of the world is hampered, and that’s not good for anybody.

Below is my original blog post from Tuesday.

It’s old news now, but Egypt revoked Al-Jazeera’s license to broadcast Sunday. This is no surprise. It’s not like Egypt was a big fan of the free press to begin with: In 2008, the government was working on a censorship bill, which required journalists to avoid damaging “the social peace”, “national unity”, “public order” and “public values”.  Bloggers and journalists have been complaining about increased censorship.

So I think Egyptian journalists have been expecting their accreditation to be revoked since last week, when all cell phone and Internet service was shut down by the government. That happened yesterday, and according to the L.A. Times and Bikya Masr, journalists, local and international, are being assaulted and detained. Their cameras and the cameras of people on the street are being confiscated.

Shutting down the public’s Internet and cellphone access to each other is a terrible thing. But to me, revoking the accreditation of professional journalists is worse. Why? Because although millions of people use cell service and the Internet, there are segments of the population that do not. I’m thinking of older people, the kind of people who get their news from television, the newspapers, and radio.

I don’t know whether newspapers and radio stations in Egypt are still operating, but when the television news is shut down, that’s a clear message to all citizens that blinders have been slapped on them by the government.

Despite the crackdown, there is, of course, news still coming out of Egypt. Al-Jazeera English is still operating, and The LA Times’  Babylon & Beyond blog is particularly good. Those reporters are getting that information at their own risk, and against stiff odds. I’m acquainted with one reporter over there, and I wonder what it’s like to report under those circumstances. Even though I don’t know the guy very well, I do worry about him and about his co-workers.

The censorship may backfire on the administration. More people, the ones who were staying indoors, watching the protests on TV, may take to the streets. And the government is asking for it. By shutting down the public’s access to information in a time of turmoil – which is when people most need their news sources – the government of Egypt is  demonstrating a disregard for its citizenry.