CAIRO: Rights group the Human Rights Information Network (HRInfo) today criticized the decision by the government-controlled Nilesat satellite to stop the transmission of the Hewar channel.
Nilesat, which broadcasts to the entire Arab region, had stopped yesterday the transmission of the channel, whose content is mostly political with some religious programs.
HRInfo linked the decision to stop transmission to the charter on satellite television broadcasting regulations recently issued by Arab ministers of information during a meeting of the Arab League.
The non-binding document of Feb. 12 entitled “Principles for Organizing Satellite Broadcast and Television Transmission and Reception in the Arab Region – known as the Arab Charter – recommends that broadcasters “protect the supreme interests of Arab states and “respect the principle of national sovereignty.
It also states that freedom of expression should be used “wisely and with responsibility.
In its statement issued today HRInfo said that the decision reflects a broader policy of repression of the media.
“The decision to stop transmission of the Hewar channel on Nilesat conflicts with professional standards and values, and reveals the clear determination of the Egyptian government to clamp down on any trustworthy media platform which addresses Arab audiences – whether this be a newspaper, a TV channel or a university notice board.
HRInfo also says that the decision contradicts the claim by Arab Ministers of Information that the Charter will not be used to censor satellite broadcasting.
“This disgraceful decision . gives the lie to the claim by Arab ministers of information that this police charter will not be applied to serious channels.
The Hewar channel, which began broadcasting in the middle of 2006, has become known for its boldness, truthfulness, and its solid treatment of issues of interest to Arab audiences.
Zaher Birawi, head of programming at the UK-based Hewar Channel told Daily News Egypt that the decision to ban transmission of the channel was made during negotiations between the channel and Nilesat about contractual arrangements.
“Transmission of the channel was stopped yesterday suddenly. We had been in discussions with Nilesat about the status of our contract, which has expired. They agreed to allow us to broadcast on a provisional contract until the end of April, but reneged on this agreement without prior notice, Birawi explained.
Birawi says that no reason was given for the decision to stop transmission but suspects that the Egyptian government was motivated by its desire to contain criticism.
“Two out of Hewar’s 26 programs have a religious theme, while 50 percent of its programming is of a political nature, he explained. “Arab governments dislike, and try to contain, criticism of any kind.
In the HRInfo statement, director Gamal Eid describes the decision to ban Hewar as “a grim start to the non-binding Charter.
“It is only in the Arab world that we find obsolete entities such as ministers of information controlling television channels to this degree, Eid is quoted as saying in the statement. “This is an Arab farce, 100 percent.