CAIRO: Egypt’s government-owned satellite television operator NileSat temporarily suspended the licenses of 12 satellite channels and issued warnings to 20 others on Tuesday for inciting religious hatred and violence, for providing medical advice by unqualified individuals, and for promoting unlicensed pharmaceutical products.
The most staggering violations included calls by extremist presenters for the excommunication, banishment and murder of Shia Muslims. “Herbal cures” for hepatitis B and C and cancer were also promoted on channels without the health ministry’s authorization, according to a statement prepared by the Ministry of Information.
The statement added that the channels’ licenses were suspended out of concern for “public interest,” stating that it’s the government’s responsibility to protect Egyptians from these sorts of violations.
“The Egyptian public’s airwaves are no place for the incitement of religious hatred [nor for advocating the use of] dangerous pseudo-medicine,” read the information ministry’s statement.
The government crackdown on satellite channels started earlier this month with the temporary suspension of licenses granted to “Khaleegyah,” “El-Nas,” “El-Hafez,” “Health & Beauty,” and “El-Baraheen.” They were informed that the license suspensions were for violating the terms of their contracts with NileSat and for breaching the Media Code of Ethics.
Naila Hamdy, chairman of mass communications at the American University of Cairo, believes that the government crackdown is an implementation of the Arab League Charter which regulates the “controversial” content of satellite channels.
In 2008, Egypt and Saudi Arabia called for a meeting where Arab information ministers approved a charter to regulate satellite broadcasting.
“We do have a lack of credible media, but this massive crackdown is bound to include the oppression of the freedom of expression,” Hamdy told Daily News Egypt.
According to the information ministry’s statement, the government respects and values both the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, as long as it’s not abused by “extremists and quacks.”
Ahmed Anis, chairman of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, stated that all channels whose licenses had been suspended will be able to re-broadcast on NileSat once it has been certified that they have taken measures to correct the violations outlined in the terms and bases of their license suspensions.
Adel Saad, vice president of Al Bahrain company, told Daily News Egypt he never expected to be shut down.
Regarding the issue of unauthorized medical advice, Saad stated, “Licensed doctors with high degrees are the ones who present these health programs … [they] present medical advice and medical products based on their own expertise.”
Saad said that “El-Bahareen” will soon be broadcasted again, except with a much different format this time around. Vowing to comply with the restrictions set by NileSat’s management, “El-Bahareen” will be re-aired as an entertainment channel and not a religious one.
“We just hope to get back on the air soon,” said Saad. “We have many employees sitting on the streets now and we suffered grave losses because of this temporary shutdown.”
There is skepticism over the government’s proclaimed motives in suspending these stations. With parliamentary elections beginning in November, there is wide speculation that this government crackdown on satellite television is aimed at silencing the voices of government opposition parties.
Nabil Abdel-Fattah, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, stated that he doubts these temporary license suspensions will cause a media blackout regarding coverage of the upcoming elections. Abdel-Fattah pointed out the various internet technologies, emphasizing the diverse methods of communication that are available to people.
However, he added that the license suspensions will likely affect how candidates of the National Democratic Party fare against independent candidates representing the Muslim Brotherhood in November’s election.
“It’s definitely an attempt to silence salafi religious channels that benefit the Muslim Brotherhood by supporting their ideology and slogans,” Abdel-Fattah told Daily News Egypt.