Egypt pulls the plug on another TV station

Egypt has stopped transmission of the outspoken U.K.-based TV channel Al-Hiwar on NileSat – the latest victim of the Arab sattelite TV charter, rights groups claim.
Al Hiouar

BEIRUT/CAIRO/LONDON, April 3, 2008 (MENASSAT) – On Tuesday April 1, U.K.-based Al-Hiwar became the third Arabic sattelite TV channel to suddenly disappear off Egyptian TV screens, following in the footsteps of Al-Zawraa and Al-Baraka satellite channels which were blocked by NileSat in February.

Rights groups immediately linked the decision to pull Al-Hiwar to the controversial Arab charter on satellite TV broadcasting regulations which was recently adopted by the Arab ministers of information during a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo. The agreement urged broadcasters to "protect the supreme interests of Arab states" and stated that freedom of expression should be used "wisely and with responsibility."

"This is an Arab farce, 100 percent," said Gamal Eid, director of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), said in a statement issued on Wednesday. "It is only in the Arab world that we find obsolete entities such as ministers of information controlling TV channels to this degree."

Dr. Azzem Tamimi, founder of Al-Hiwar, said neither the Egyptian authorities nor NileSat had provided Al-Hiwar with an official reason for pulling the plug on his station.

"Everything was done without notice. They simply removed us from the transmission," Dr. Tamimi told MENASSAT from London.

Dr. Tahimi pointed out that Al-Hiwar had negotiated a contract with NileSat through the British company GlobeCast. The deal was supposed to have lasted for another year but NileSat recently informed GlobeCast that it wanted to end the partnership with Al-Hiwar. 

GlobeCast then renegotiated a deal with NileSat to broadcast Al-Hiwar until the end of April. But on April 1, NileSat broke the agreement and suspended transmission.

According to Dr. Tahimi, NileSat had to stop transmission due to "orders from high authorities."

He believes that his channel's outspokenness played a key role in the decision. In particular, two of the channel's weekly shows may have irked authorities.

"I think our weekly broadcast on human rights in the Arab world, Huquq el-Nas, may have irritated the Egyptian authorities as well as the program Awraq Masreya (Egyptian papers)."

Dr. Tahimi echoed the claims by rights groups that the Arab satellite charter probably played a significant role in the affair.

Despite having been booted off NileSat, Al-Hiwar is still within reach for Egyptian viewers on Atlantic Bird 4, another sattelite.

"They cannot prevent us from broadcasting. There is always a way to reach the audiences," Dr. Tahimi said.

U.K.-based rights group Article 19 also voiced concern over Egypt's deteriorating media environment, referring to the Al-Hiwar decision as "the latest in a series of attacks in Egypt against freedom of the press and the free flow of information."

"Egypt is on a roll," said Article 19's director Agnes Callamard, "but it is going downhill."