Below is a letter sent by the Committee to Protect Journalists to the chairman of Nilesat regarding the ban of al-Hiwar, a London-based satellite channel, which is apparently the first victim of the new Arab Information Ministers' Charter on Satellite TV:
April 8, 2008
Mr. Amin Bassiouni
P.O. Box 72
6th of October City, Egypt
Via Facsimile: +202 384 00 402
Dear Mr. Bassiouni:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express its deep concern about your companyâ€™s decision to stop carrying the signal of the London-based Al-Hewar Television.
Nilesat, an Egyptian government-owned satellite transmission company, stopped carrying the channel on April 1 without warning or explanation, according to international news reports and Egypt-based journalists. The station remains accessible to viewers on the Atlantic Bird satellite system, according to news reports.
The public silence of your company, coupled with the recently promulgated Arab Information Ministersâ€™ charter on satellite broadcasting, has prompted speculation that the decision comes in retaliation for the stationâ€™s critical reporting on Egyptian and Arab world politics. The Arab Information Ministersâ€™ charter, adopted in February, calls for vague bans on broadcasting that has a â€œnegative influence on social peace and national unity,â€� that is â€œin contradiction with the principles of Arab solidarityâ€� or that defames Arab â€œleaders or national and religious symbols.â€�
Zaher Birawi, Al-Hewar TVâ€™s program director, called Nilesatâ€™s move â€œsurprisingâ€� and â€œunjustified.â€� Al-Hewar TV said in a statement that it might be linked to â€œthe dissatisfaction of the Egyptian government with the high level of freedom with which the channel tackles different issues, particularly those related to the situation in Egypt.â€�
Al-Hewar features talk shows such as â€œPeoplesâ€™ Rights,â€� which often invites human rights activists harassed or persecuted by Arab governments, and â€œEgyptian Papers,â€� which has hosted prominent Egyptian government critics such as editor Ibrahim Eissa and dissident judge Hisham Bastawissi.
Last week, the Egyptian daily Al-Dustour quoted Al-Hewarâ€™s lead shareholder Azzam Tamimi as saying that the Nilesat decision could also be related to the channelâ€™s coverage of popular support for Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Stripâ€”stories that highlighted inaction on the part of Arab states and Egypt.
The secretive closure of Al-Hewar TV bears the markings of censorship and poses a grave threat to the free flow of information. We call on you to publicly clarify the reasons for terminating Al-Hewar TVâ€™s signal and see to it that the station is able to resume broadcasting immediately.
His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak
His Excellency Anas al-Fiqi, Information Minister
His Excellency Nabil Fahmy, Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S.
The Honorable Francis J. Ricciardone, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt
His Excellency Amr Mousa, Secretary-General, League of Arab States