CAIRO: The Egyptian General Authority for Investment (GAFI) ordered the shutdown of four satellite channels for violating their license agreement with the Media Free Zone.
Television channels Al-Khalijia, Al-Hafez, Al-Siha Wal Gamal, and Al-Nas — all owned by Al Baraheen Group — have stopped broadcasting. Osama Saleh, the head of GAFI, told state-owned newspaper Al-Akhbar that the shutdown is temporary until the channels abide by the law and stick to the agreement.
The violations were related to issuing fatwas (religious edicts) by uncertified sheikhs and discussing other matters such as alternative medicines.
Furthermore, satellite television channels On TV and Al-Fara’een also received warnings from GAFI for violating the license agreement.
On its official website, On TV, owned by Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris, issued a statement with an explanation for the warning as well as its plan of action. The statement said that the violation of the license agreement is related to the news bar on the channel, which was not included in the agreement.
“[We] respect the law and the terms of the agreement; therefore [we] will [obtain] all of the required licenses and permits as [we’re] keen on following all of the necessary procedures in these matters,” On TV’s statement read.
Saleh told Al-Akhbar, “Freedom of expression does not mean presenting content that causes controversy, rifts in society, and information that is ideologically, religiously and scientifically incorrect, but [rather] what is good for the country and society.”
Over the past several weeks there has been a crackdown on the media in Egypt, as popular television show “Al-Qahera Al-Youm,” whose host Amr Adib is known for criticizing the government and the ruling party, was stopped. Opposition journalist Ibrahim Eissa was also fired from his position as chief editor of Al-Dostor newspaper, along with sports commentator Alaa Sadek from terrestrial television for criticizing the Ministry of Interior on his show.
Makram Mohamed Ahmed, head of the Journalists’ Syndicate, raised questions regarding the decisions that are coming out “wholesale” without any consideration to the timing, which coincides with the Parliamentary elections next month and the presidential elections next year.
“The reasons that are given for shutting down these channels or firing a journalist could all be true and verifiable; however, all of them coming at the same time — especially since there is an atmosphere of speculation and doubt — is what makes it surprising,” said Ahmed.
“It’s hard for me to call this a trend of [cracking] down on the media in Egypt [but] because of the timing, I can’t help but speculate that it is … and I’m sure this is what’s going on in every citizen’s mind,” Ahmed added.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) released a press statement condemning this “restriction on media freedom” in Egypt, as they consider all the recent events “steps in the clear path of absolute loyalty to the government or absolute silence.”
“The government has gone hysterical over limiting freedom of expression,” stated ANHRI. “It is a drastic retreat to the days before 2005 when the calls for the long missed democracy and reforms started. Hundreds of bloggers and journalists paid dearly for their call, as well as thousand of activists who were jailed or tortured. The steps achieved were [not obtained by asking for the government’s permission].”
The human rights watchdog also called on “all the honest [citizens] and those concerned with democracy to work to reserve and protect freedoms so that Egypt [will] not turn into another Tunisia or another Saudi.”