CAIRO: Media analysts believe that freezing licenses for new satellite TV stations and the decision to punish channels for “seditious actions” takes Egypt back to the pre-revolution era when freedom of expression was heavily restricted.
Journalist and activist Jamila Ismail told Al-Arabiya.net that “After the revolution we expected the Egyptian government would draw lessons from the past and learn that freedom of expression is the only way to preserve the gains of the revolution. However, it seems that the government and the military council are not taking into consideration ground realities and the new phase that started in the country.”
In a meeting held on Wednesday, the Egyptian military council and cabinet decided to temporarily freeze licenses for new private satellite television stations. It also assigned the Investment Authority with the task of taking legal measures against those satellite channels that incite violence and destabilize security and stability during this critical chapter of the country’s history.
The Communication Minister Osama Heikal however assured the public that this measure did not threaten press freedoms and that all efforts would be made to protect freedom of information that did not compromise on ethical reporting. He urged the media and press representatives to broadcast and publish “accurate information” and not give preference to scoops over objectivity and honesty.
This decision, however, will impact investment in Egypt says Khaled Saad, a legal and media advisor. “For example, issuing a frequency to Nile Sat only costs $300,000 a year and then there’s the cost of studio rental that varies from 1 to 5 million dollar a year. Furthermore, each television station employs about 500 workers. So based on these figures, we are facing serious financial losses that threaten the economy and may cause Egypt to lose its pioneering role in Arab media.”
Ismail said freedom of information was every citizens’ right especially in light of the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak and Habib al-Adly. [The in-camera trial] “is a violation of the right to information especially in cases where murders are involved and we get to hear testimonies of witnesses who accompanied the deposed president during the revolution and have lots of information. This type of prohibition will cause doubts in the tribunal’s integrity and raise questions about attempts to with some of the witnesses’ statements.”
However, Dr. Mahmud Alam Eddin, media professor at the University of Cairo, believes that the decision is a temporary one given the country’s transitional phase. “Like other sectors, the media was uncontrollable after the revolution so it is necessary to establish a non-regulatory body to deal with satellite channels.” He also stressed on the need for a code of ethics for the media to follow; one that is based on honesty, integrity and neutrality. “We need to set the tempo of democracy,” he said.
Ahmad Refaat, who is associated with the yet to be launched TV channel Al- Horiyya (the Freedom) reminisced on Mubarak’s rule: “At least Mubarak used to hear people insulting him on satellite televisions and keep silent.”
(This article was translated from Arabic by Stanela Khalil)