Egypt cracks down on media ahead of elections
With Egypt’s parliamentary elections drawing closer, the Hosni Mubarak government has begun cracking down on the media. The moves include clamping down on broadcasts of live shows and the manipulated sacking of a prominent newspaper editor.
Egypt’s High Committee for Elections has not yet announced an exact date, but the elections are expected to be held in November. Mubarak, 82, has not yet announced his intention to contest, but speculation is rife that he would prop up his son Gamal.The National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) last week banned satellite broadcasters from offering live feeds to private television channels. They will now have to broadcast directly from studios affiliated with the state-run Media Production City if they wanted licenses renewed, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported. The decision to cancel the feed permits was part of a broader attempt to better regulate independent media and was not a curb on free speech, officials claimed.“I have had to cancel bookings by Al Jazeera for two units for parliamentary election coverage,” Nader Gohar, owner of satellite feed provider Cairo News Company, complained to Reuters. “If I go ahead with the booking, I could be jailed. This will definitely shrink the content and coverage of the parliamentary elections.”Osama el-Sheikh, director of Egypt’s state radio and TV union, denied the allegations. “These are measures to regulate the plethora of companies that set up SNG (satellite news gathering) units to offer live broadcast feeds to channels. Many of these companies have neither permits nor licenses,” he told the news agency.Earlier this week, NileSat administration decided to close down four satellite TV channels : El-Nas, Al-Hafez, Asseha wa Al-Gamal and Kalijyia, and issued a warning to ONTV and Al-Faraeen. The channels were told that they had breached the licence terms regarding aired content. Nothing was specified about the content.The Ministry of Communications has also announced new restrictions on the use of text messaging for the dissemination of mobile news alerts. All news agencies and officially recognised political parties will now have to obtain government authorisation to continue providing news alerts. So, all political movements that do not enjoy official party status – such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group; the National Association for Change led by liberal reformer Mohamed ElBaradei; the pro-democracy Kefaya movement; the Nasserist Karama Party; and the moderate Islamic Wasat Party – will be denied access to mass text messaging services, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.Mohamed Habib, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency that the government was seeking to silence critics. “Independent journalism has a crucial role in keeping watch over the regime and exposing fraud or abuse of power, particularly during the time of elections,” he said.These measures come close on the heels of the editor of Egypt’s independent daily Al-Dustour, Ibrahim Eissa, being fired by the paper’s new owners. Eissa said he was sacked hours after being told not to run an article by Mohamed el-Baradei, the leader of a political reform movement in Egypt, and just a day after the paper’s transfer of ownership to a government-friendly party was finalised.The new owners, including media mogul and leader of the al-Wafd party al-Sayyid al- Badawy, had made public assurances that the newspaper’s editorial line would not be affected by the sale. But Eissa thinks differently. “They bought the newspaper for US$4 million, just to stop me from writing,” Eissa told the magazine Foreign Policy.Always an outspoken journalist, Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison in 2008 for “insulting” President Mubarak by the referring to the octogenarian leader’s health an article. Thanks to a presidential pardon, he did not have to serve the sentence.“Al-Dustour’s ordeal can best be understood in the context of the other negative developments that have afflicted Egypt’s press in recent weeks,” the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) remarked. “Oblique threats and backroom deals that are not visibly linked to the government have started silencing some of Egypt’s most critical independent voices.”Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) Executive Director Gamal Eid said,” It is not a coincidence that this paper is gagged on the same day the NDP (National Democratic Party) announce their candidates’ lists for the upcoming public elections. The decision to dismiss Eissa is but a token of gratitude from al-Badawy to the government”.According to ANHRI, Alaa al-Aswani and Hamdi Qandil, two of the most popular columnists at the independent daily Al-Shuruq, stopped writing their columns last month after the newspaper’s administration warned them about “external” pressure to tone down their content. Another popular television programme, Al-Qahira Al-Yawm on the Orbit satellite network, was suspended on September 25.
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