April 8, 2008
Mr. Amin Bassiouni
P.O. Box 72
6th of October City, Egypt
Via Facsimile: +202 384 00 402
Dear Mr. Bassiouni,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express its deep concern about your company’s decision to stop carrying the signal of the London-based Al-Hiwar Television.
Nilesat, an Egyptian government-owned satellite transmission company, stopped carrying the channel on April 1 without warning or explanation, according to international news reports and Egypt-based journalists. The station remains accessible to viewers on the Atlantic Bird satellite system, according to news reports.
The public silence of your company, coupled with the recently promulgated Arab Information Ministers’ charter on satellite broadcasting, has prompted speculation that the decision comes in retaliation for the station’s critical reporting on Egyptian and Arab world politics. The Arab Information Ministers’ charter, adopted in February, calls for vague bans on broadcasting that has a “negative influence on social peace and national unity,” that is”in contradiction with the principles of Arab solidarity” or that defames Arab “leaders or national and religious symbols.”
Zaher Birawi, Al-Hiwar TV’s program director, called Nilesat’s move “surprising” and “unjustified.” Al-Hiwar TV said in a statement that it might be linked to “the dissatisfaction of the Egyptian government with the high level of freedom with which the channel tackles different issues, particularly those related to the situation in Egypt.”
Al-Hiwar features talk shows such as “Peoples’ Rights,” which often invites human rights activists harassed or persecuted by Arab governments, and “Egyptian Papers,” which has hosted prominent Egyptian government critics such as editor Ibrahim Eissa and dissident judge Hisham Bastawissi.
Last week, the Egyptian daily Al-Dustour quoted Al-Hiwar’s lead shareholder Azzam Tamimi as saying that the Nilesat decision could also be related to the channel’s coverage of popular support for Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Strip–stories that highlighted inaction on the part of Arab states and Egypt.
The secretive closure of Al-Hiwar TV bears the markings of censorship and poses a grave threat to the free flow of information. We call on you to publicly clarify the reasons for terminating Al-Hiwar TV’s signal and see to it that the station is able to resume broadcasting immediately.