Broadcasting giant CBC has distanced itself from satirist Bassem Youssef, host of the wildly popular show “Al-Bernameg” aired on their network, following his season premier on Friday night.
The opener drew both compliments and criticism for poking fun at both Islamists and the cult of personality that has surrounded commander of the armed forces Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
According to the Associated Press, at least four complaints had been lodged by the public to the prosecutor general’s office as of Saturday, accusing Youssef of defaming the military and working to “undermine the honour and dignity of Egypt and its people.” An investigation into the complaints by the prosecutor has not yet begun.
In a statement televised on Saturday night, CBC’s board of directors responded to viewers’ reactions and outlined company policy.
“We have observed people’s reactions to Al-Bernameg’s latest episode, which were mostly disapproving,” said the statement. “We stress our support for the national sentiment and are careful not to use words, insinuations or scenes that ridicule state icons. We will continue to exercise full freedom of media and we reiterate our support for the 25 January and 30 June revolutions.”
Mohammed Fathy, media spokesperson for “Al-Bernameg,” said Youssef and the programme’s production team were not made aware of CBC’s statement ahead of time.
Rumours circulated on social media that Al-Sisi praised “Al-Bernameg” for supporting freedom of speech, but military spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali denied this in an official statement.
Despite the controversy, Youssef and “Al-Bernameg” remain a huge hit. Though exact ratings details for the first episode are unknown, clips from the show are the highest trending videos on YouTube in Egypt.
Youssef and the show’s crew remained unfazed by the controversy, said Fathy, and production will continue as usual.
“There are a lot of reactions. Some people hate the show, some people love it… but we’re used to that from past seasons,” said Fathy.
Often compared to John Stewart of “The Daily Show,” Youssef is no stranger to controversy. In March, Youssef was summoned by the prosecutor on charges that he defamed now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi, stemming for comments made on “Al-Bernameg.” Youssef was released on bail and the charges were later dropped.