al-Hiwar channel first victim of satellite charter?

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

Chairman

Nilesat
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 company’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 Ministers’ charter on satellite broadcasting, has prompted speculation that the decision comes in retaliation for the station’s critical reporting on Egyptian and Arab world politics. The Arab Information Ministers’ charter, adopted in February, calls for vague bans on broadcasting that has a “negative influence on social peace and national unity,� that is “in contradiction with the principles of Arab solidarity� or that defames Arab “leaders or national and religious symbols.�



Zaher Birawi, Al-Hewar TV’s program director, called Nilesat’s move “surprising� and “unjustified.� Al-Hewar TV said in a statement that it might be linked to “the 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.�

Al-Hewar features talk shows such as “Peoples’ Rights,� which often invites human rights activists harassed or persecuted by Arab governments, and “Egyptian Papers,� 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-Hewar’s lead shareholder Azzam Tamimi as saying that the Nilesat decision could also be related to the channel’s coverage of popular support for Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Strip—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 TV’s signal and see to it that the station is able to resume broadcasting immediately.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

Executive Director

Cc:

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


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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.