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Interview: 25TV editors on resuming broadcast after security raid

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CAIRO: Launched two months after the Jan. 25 uprising, an independent TV channel temporarily closed down on the same night that saw the bloodiest crackdown in months on a protest at Maspero.

It took 25TV 11 days to go back on air after its offices were raided by security on Oct. 9, as a mainly Coptic protest was quashed leaving 27 dead and about 300 injured.

"We are back and more motivated than ever," Alamir Aladdin, one of the presenters of 25TV and also its deputy editor-in-chief, told Daily News Egypt. The staff wants to continue pursuing their goals, particularly "supporting the revolution and its values."

Down the street from the state TV building, Maspero, the channel, like other privately owned networks, was airing a different version of events from what the state was propagating. While state TV at one point claimed soldiers were killed and called upon citizen to protect the military against Copts, other channels were airing footage of military APCs running over protesters.

The staff of 25TV, however, refute claims that their office was raided to seize videotape footage shot of the Maspero events.

"Central Security Forces (CSF) and military police stormed the building, looking for the ‘perpetrators’. They never took any tapes, proving that it was a field directive … it wasn’t planned. The same happened at Al-Hurra studio upstairs," explained Aladdin.

Aladdin said that 25TV’s coverage of the events depended mostly on the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) report and "tried to be as objective as possible, with minimal comments due to all the hysteria and pandemonium occurring outside."

"We were particularly conservative about the reports claiming the death of soldiers in the events," he added.

An official fact finding mission organized by the National Council of Human Rights called upon the military to release information about its alleged victims. State TV offered conflicting reports about military causalities, with an unconfirmed number of deaths.

"25TV was suspended because the administration feared for the lives and security of the channel staff," said Yasser Dowara, 25TV’s editor-in-chief.

When the administration met with the broadcasters a week after the hiatus, they were convinced it was time to resume operations, Dowara explained.

The venture was a gamble from the start, he said, as it completely relied on youth to run and maintain programming, without featuring any “star presenters.”

"The staff is entirely composed of young Egyptians in their 20s, who were only activists a few months ago. We took the gamble and attempted to train them into future professional journalists," he added.

Dowara doesn’t see this gamble as a drawback, as much as the characteristic giving 25TV its edge. The channel’s director Mohamed Youssry told DNE following the launch in April that none of the programming would be conventional.

"We have the logistics to go live on air at any time at any location, as we have done before on several occasions, such as the Imbaba Church assaults [in May], the Tahrir sit-in clearing on Aug. 1, and most recently with Maspero," Dowara said.

25TV is owned by Video Cairo Sat, a television content provider that caters to several news services, such as Fox News, Sky News, and Reuters. As such, 25TV usually provides programming from all over Egypt, and is not exclusive only to Cairo.

25TV was launched from Mahalla in Egypt’s Delta region on April 6, 2011, the anniversary and birthplace of the 2008 popular April 6 workers movement.

Dowara claimed that during the Libyan conflict that led eventually to toppling and killing strongman Moammar Qaddafi by the rebels, 25TV was the only Egyptian channel that provided a camera crew for events coverage, while others only had correspondents providing audio reports.

Having travelled to Benghazi last August, Aladdin was about to travel to Sana’a to cover the Yemeni uprising for 25TV on the eve of the Maspero events.

New media
The channel continues, however, to face challenges, mainly financial.

"25TV is not funded by any local political party or movement, nor does it have any external patronage, and does not currently run any advertisements," Aladdin said.

"Although this can be a drawback, it also allows us to be professional and independent … We are the only channel that seriously tackles human rights issues not only in Egypt, but in the Arab world as well, particularly in the Gulf states."

Since it’s owned by industry professionals, Dowara argued, the channel is not politicized, with no pressure on its editorial policy.

Dowara and Aladdin perceive the channel as part of the “new media,” which combines traditional journalism with new features of the web, such as YouTube, Twitter and social media in general.

They also have their eyes set on international exposure, as 25TV provides English subtitles for all videos on its YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/25tv).

Aladdin however warned of marginalization of the “new media” by the dominant political movements.

"The traditional media ignores this new wave and isolates us," he argued, adding that several new political parties and movements launched their own channels to propagate their agendas.

Aladdin was, however, skeptical about the popular initiative for a public-owned channel titled "As-Sha’b Yoreed (The People Demand…).

"However, it would be beneficial if it materialized because it will support this media trend and break the isolation."

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