Media watchdogs slam closure of Islamist TV stations in Egypt

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Media watchdogs have slammed the decision to close three Islamist-run TV stations in the hours after Mohammad Mursi was overthrown, raising new questions over press freedom in Egypt.

Military-led authorities forced the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt 25 channel off air, and ordered its managers to be arrested.
The Islamist-run stations al-Hafiz and al-Nas were also shut down shortly after General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, head of Egypt’s armed forces, announced the transition of power.

The Islamist television channels taken off air were known for their criticism of the liberal forces behind the June 30 uprising and were seen as propaganda media arms of the Muslim Brotherhood and associated groups.

The France-based Reporters Without Borders said it was “alarmed” that one of the first actions of the military authorities in Egypt was to close down these TV channels.

“Inaugurating a new era that is supposed to be democratic with such an act of censorship is disturbing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Under the rule of law, a court order should be needed to close a news outlet. We call for the reopening of these three TV stations.”

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also criticized the move to close the three TV stations, saying that it marked a “worrying” move apparently designed to cut off pro-Mursi coverage.

“We are concerned by reports that authorities are shutting down television coverage based on political perspective,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator. “We urge the military not to deprive Egyptians of information sources at this important juncture.”

Egyptians were divided over the closure of the stations in the aftermath of the dramatic transition of power in the country.

Wael Abbas, an Egyptian journalist, blogger, and human rights activist, told Al Arabiya that the move to close the channels was an “illegal” challenge to media freedom – adding that it did not bode well for the future.

“[The closure of the channels] is illegal, unethical, and defies freedom,” he said. “It may be hinting at the army’s intentions in the coming period.”

Abbas said that the closure of the TV stations was part of what he described as an “army coup” in Egypt – a term that some other commentators dispute.

“This was a tactical army operation to accentuate the coup that took place,” Abbas said.

Yet others believe that the closure of the channels is a short-term, but necessary measure intended to calm tensions in Egypt.

“Shutting the channels is a temporary yet necessary action, following the inciting that took place,” said Mohammad Sami, producer from ONtv in Egypt and a member of Egypt’s Journalists' Syndicate.

Sami told Al Arabiya that he believed the channels would be back on air after a promised media charter in Egypt.

“General Sissi vowed for security and said that a media charter will be put in place during the coming period for all newspapers, TV stations, radio stations,” he said.

“This charter is very important and healthy… I think after setting the charter the channels will be aired.”

The television channels subject to closure by the Egyptian army were known to broadcast news about Islamist activities and street rallies, and contributed to the media war that arose in the lead up to the June 30 uprising.

In June the presenter of a popular TV talk show on the Brotherhood’s Egypt 25 channel accused several popular figures in the Egyptian media of apostasy and of links to the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Nourdeddin Abdel Hafiz even leveled accusations against Amr Mousa, saying the former presidential candidate worked for a “Zionist company” along with other remnants of the old regime.

He also criticized the judiciary saying: “If you insult Islam, you pay money [as a fine], but if you insult the other religion Christianity you get jailed for 14 years.”

Previously as well, a presenter at another television channel that was taken off air, al-Hafiz, was sentenced to one year in prison for defaming prominent actress Elham Shaheen.

Abdullah Badr, the presenter and Islamic preacher, said: “Elham Shaheen is cursed and she will never enter heaven.”

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