Information minister adds free speech advocate to blacklist

Safaa Abdoun
7 Min Read

CAIRO: Minister of Information, Anas El Fiqi has allegedly banned journalist and columnist Gamal Fahmy from appearing on popular anchor Mahmoud Saad’s radio show “Esma’a El Khabar (Hear the News), threatening to suspend the show altogether.

The program was launched on Jan. 11, 2009 and runs twice a week on state-owned Middle East Radio Station (Asharq Alawsat). It has won instant acclaim for tackling the social problems of average Egyptians.

News of Fahmy’s exclusion from state radio was first mentioned by the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which strongly objects to the decision.

According to ANHRI, state-owned magazine Rose El Youssef was enraged by Fahmy and launched a campaign calling for stopping the show or suspending Fahmy, which El Fiqi responded instantly.

Since Feb.6, only 23 episodes after the launch, the show has been airing re-runs instead of live broadcasts.

The newspaper is also known for its continuous criticism of Saad, questioning state TV’s decision to have him co-host the popular daily show “El Beit Beitak .

“We can’t disregard the fact that El Fiqi and the editors of Rose El Youssef are members of the Policies Committee of the National Democratic Party (NDP) whose ‘New Thought’ ideology was harshly criticized by Fahmy, said Gamal Eid, executive director of ANHRI.

Eid added that “Rose El Youssef controls Egyptian media and the minister not because it’s the most influential or has the highest circulation rates but because it is the voice of the ruling NDP.

Rose El Youssef, which was a leading magazine, has lost its status and credibility among readers since its editorial policies have become blatantly biased to the NDP. It has also been criticized for being a waste of public funds as its circulation rates have been steadily decreasing, according to official reports.

Journalist Mohamed Abdel Quddous, whose grandmother Rose El Youssef had founded the magazine in the first half o the 20th century, told Daily News Egypt, “We are sorry that Rose El Youssef has reached this state. It is no longer a forum for free expression and great journalism, nor does it represent the liberal ideology it followed when it was first established.

“Egyptian media will lose much by excluding a great journalist like Gamal Fahmy, said Eid. “If the minister is keen on seeing progress in Egyptian media then he should work on Rose El Youssef to stop it from deteriorating further instead of inciting officials against other journalists.

Earlier this week, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Chief Mohamed ElBaradei was allegedly placed on a blacklist barring him from appearing on Egyptian state television when he criticized the Egyptian regime on satellite channels, according to local media reports.

He had said that Egypt deserves better when it comes to political reform and called for a clearer separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of political power in the country, as well as called for constitutional amendments that would limit presidential terms to two.

However, the decision was not formally announced or declared by the authorities and thus cannot be substantiated or officially confirmed.

Nabil Abdel-Fattah from Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt at the time that decisions such as these, when made, are never announced or put in writing.

“These [ban orders] are usually not documented for fear of it being challenged in administrative court, as they are illegal and unconstitutional, he said. “This is state television, not the television of the ruling party or the current information minister; it is funded by the public.

Such decisions are not documented to protect the government from being subjected to any criticism, he added.

“This logic of banning public figures from appearing on state television reflects a gap between official thinking and the major transformations in world media. People no longer need to appear on public television to get their points across, Abdel-Fattah said.

This is not the first time Egyptian journalists have suffered the consequences of criticizing the government or the NDP. Last summer, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif “overlooked renowned journalist and poet Farouk Goweida from nomination for membership of the Supreme Council for Culture allegedly in retaliation for a series of articles titled “The Land Mafia .

The articles, which were published in state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, criticized the government for not following due process when it came to selling public land to investors and businessmen.

Goweida commented on the issue to the Daily News Egypt in measured words. “I don’t want to get into this issue; I’m leaving it in the hands of the government, he had said back then.

Over the past year El Fiqi was criticized by freedom of expression advocates for proposing measures which reinforce the state’s control over the media.

In February 2008 he promoted a charter titled “Principles for Organizing Satellite Broadcast and Television Transmission and Reception in the Arab Region, which was introduced by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It called on the regulatory bodies of the Arab League’s member states to ensure that satellite channels broadcasting from their jurisdictions do not “negatively affect social peace, national unity, public order, and public morals or “defame leaders, or national and religious symbols [of other Arab states].

Last summer, a draft law tightening state control over audio and visual transmission in Egypt, was leaked in Al Masry Al Youm, triggering a media frenzy.

The law also included the establishment of a supreme censorship authority to monitor all audio and visual media in Egypt. -Additional reporting by Abdel-Rahman Hussein

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