Egypt says no to Iran news channel

Egypt says no to Iran news channel

CAIRO: The Crew of al-Alam news channel, an Iranian news channel in Arabic, were surprised on Tuesday evening by their broadcasting being dropped on both of Egypt’s main satellites, Nile Sat and Arab Sat, without warning. It comes as a sign of the tensions in Arab and Iranian relations, which have continued to deteriorate since a warmth appeared on the horizon last year.

The Middle East’s two main satellite operators dropped the Arabic-speaking Iranian television station without giving a reason. The decision was described by the broadcaster on Wednesday as an attempt to stifle Iran’s voice in the region.

The Arabic-speaking al-Alam, based in Iran, said that Wednesday’s decision was “politically motivated.” Al-Alam has been critical of Arab governments in recent times and with Egypt continuing in its attempts to curtail opposition, media experts say this move is part of the status quo for maintaining Cairo’s power.

“It’s all part of the game being played out in the Arab world over the fear of Iran’s rise to the top of the political food chain and these governments are worried that news channels will create more sympathy for Iranian issues. It is crazy,” said Hussein Devali, an Indian media analyst based in Dubai.

Farsi is the official language of Iran.

The station was carried by Saudi Arabia-hosted Arab Sat and the Egyptian-owned Nile Sat, which reaches millions of Arabic speaking viewers in over 100 countries.

The banning of the channel has sparked comparisons among a number of foreign and local activists and journalists, who point to America’s banning of Al-Jazeera in major networks in the U.S. as a similar move to curtail freedom of speech.

“How can we condemn this move without looking at what Washington has done to Al-Jazeera? It just doesn’t make sense that only Iran and the Arab world is getting criticized when the U.S. has long forbid Al Jazeera from broadcasting in the States,” said a British journalist who is currently working on a global report on media relations between nations.

Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency (MENA) said the decision was because of “contractual violations,” without elaborating. An operations official at Arab Sat, Samuel Habashi, confirmed the station was off the air.

Ahmed Al Seyoufi , head of al-Alam’s bureau in Cairo told Egyptian newspaper al-Dostour that the drop of their broadcast happened “all of a sudden,” and it was a “surprise for everyone, especially that this period is experiencing a marked improvement in relations between Egypt and Iran.”

He added that Iran’s relation with Arab countries is getting better, except with Saudi Arabia, and that “there has been no tension in the Egyptian-Iranian severed ties recently,” and added that he contacted the management of Nile Sat in Cairo. He said officials from the management confirmed that there has not been any decision issued by the company to stop the broadcasting of the channel.

“So far, we do not know who was behind the decision to stop broadcasting the channel,” he added.

Seyoufi explained that there is a contract between the channel and Nile Sat, and that the contract “obliges the company to notify the channel before dropping the broadcast in advance.” He noted that the company is currently studying the contract with its legal advisers to take the necessary procedures in accordance with the law.

Al-Shorouk newspaper quoted an official source from the Egyptian Satellite Company as saying “the drop came because the channel violated the terms of the contract and that the channel will be notified officially of this resolution.”

Al-Alam said the Egyptian Government demanded the closure of the Cairo bureau in July 2008, and that Egyptian police confiscated equipment, cameras and computers, from the bureau at the time. Egyptian Lawyer Samir Sabri has filed a lawsuit at the Administrative Court of the State Council of Egypt, where he demanded ending the transmission of the channel through Nile Sat satellite and to eliminate any license given to the channel.

In a statement posted on al-Alam’s website, the station said Arab Sat accused it of “disgracing traditions and criticizing Arab officials, in a clear admission that the deactivation was for political reasons.”

Al-Alam said Arab Sat had sent the accusations in a letter to al-Alam’s management. The satellite operator also claimed that al-Alam broadcasts programs and news that contravenes “moral and political ethics,” the station said in its post, without elaborating further.

The Channel called on its viewers to watch it on alternative satellites in the region, such as Hot Bird, Asia Sat, Galaxy and Telstar.