Stomping of Mubarak Visage Prompts Charge in Clampdown on Media

Stomping of Mubarak Visage Prompts Charge in Clampdown on Media

July 9 (Bloomberg) — For five years, Nader Gohar”s satellite-television service transmitted images that dominated Egyptian news: police crackdowns, political struggles and popular unrest. Now, he”s become a story himself.


Gohar, 55, and his Cairo News Co. are due to stand trial in the Egyptian capital next month on a criminal charge of broadcasting street protests without permission.


Police raided his offices on April 19 and confiscated his equipment, 13 days after images of food-price riots in Mahalla El-Kobra were aired worldwide. One showed a mob during the April 6 disturbances stomping on a fallen billboard of President Hosni Mubarak. Gohar said his service neither filmed nor transmitted the scenes.


“Gohar is a key victim of a new crackdown,”” said Tarek Munir, 38, Cairo representative of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, a media-rights group. It”s “a warning call to all Egyptian journalists who work with foreign media.””


Since parliamentary elections in 2005 that gave the opposition Muslim Brotherhood its strongest showing ever, the Mubarak government has clamped down on political opponents and media outlets it perceives as unfriendly.


The losing candidate in the 2006 presidential vote, Ayman Nour was convicted on fraud charges and has served half of a five-year sentence. Hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been imprisoned. Newspaper editors have been prosecuted, dissident judges disbarred and bloggers detained.


`Sooner or Later”


“The government has been going after its opponents step by step,”” Munir said. “It would have gotten to TV sooner or later. They don”t do everything at once.””


Gohar”s saga comes as the 22-member Arab League moves to tighten controls on satellite television.


In March, the group issued a document, “Principles for Regulating Satellite Broadcasting,”” demanding that “freedoms”” be “practiced with full responsibility for the protection of supreme interests of the Arab countries and the Arab world”” and not “jeopardize social peace, national unity, public order and general propriety.””


Egypt and Saudi Arabia drafted the document over objections from three states that have loosened broadcast restrictions, according to the Associated Press: Qatar, home of Al-Jazeera, the satellite news channel; the United Arab Emirates, which has built the Dubai Media City production facility; and Lebanon, with the Arab world”s most free-wheeling local television.


Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights organization, criticized the principles, which are not binding, on its Web site as “a glutinous mass of further sanctions and restrictions”” that “should be utterly rejected.””


The Arab League and Egypt“s Information Minister Anas El- Feky didn”t return five phone calls seeking comment.


Satellite Growth


In 1996, Al-Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatar government, broke the news monopoly of national governments by broadcasting across Middle Eastern borders. Since then, satellite news services, along with satellite dishes, have multiplied, along with niche channels that provide an assortment of programming, including religious shows, song-and-dance entertainment, and terrorist videos.


Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, predicted that Middle Eastern governments will move to choke broadcasts by restricting satellite access. In April, NileSat, an Egyptian government-owned satellite operator that carries 400 video and 100 audio channels, stopped carrying London-based Al-Hiwar after it criticized Egypt“s human-rights record, he said.


“It”s too much of a scandal to shut down foreign news offices, so they try to block them from being seen,”” Eid said.


Jazeera”s Broadcast


Al-Jazeera, a client of Gohar, says it broadcast the Mubarak poster stomp on its own. It sent the images via satellite to the Internet and not through the Cairo News Co., said Hussein Abdul Ghani, 50, head of Al-Jazeera”s Cairo office.


“We are actually the guilty ones and the real target of Gohar”s troubles,”” Abdul Ghani said.


Gohar faces five years in prison if convicted. He acknowledged in an interview that his license to operate had expired. He said Egyptian authorities told him to wait before renewing the license until new regulations were passed in accordance with the Arab League principles. His company employs 53 workers, who were paid through June.


“We don”t know about”” July, he said. Six other companies in Cairo continue to provide satellite services.


Gohar”s prosecution shouldn”t be in court at all, said Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights monitor. In a May 24 statement, it called the charge against him part of “the government”s campaign to stifle freedom of the press.””


To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Cairo at [email protected]