Egypt clamps down on independent media

The move has been criticised as an attempt to quieten anti-government voices.

Updated: Oct 21, 2010, 10:39 AM IST

Cairo: Egypt has introduced several new media rules in the past few days on independent media, a move criticised as an attempt to quieten anti-government voices ahead of the November 28 Parliamentary Elections.

The new media rules are seen as restricting the ability of independent broadcasters to provide live television coverage of the elections.

In the latest measure, the telecommunications regulator is cancelling the permits of private companies providing live broadcast services in Egypt, requiring them to get new licenses from state television.

Head of one company says that off record they were told it was okay to go on working till the paper work was finished.

He says: "I understood I had to be extra careful if I was to remain in business. Now if a station wants me to prepare a satellite interview with a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, I don`t do it. If pan Arab TV stations critical to the Egyptian government asks for a unit out on the street I would say no."

The authorities have also imposed new controls to monitor the news and advertisement text messaging services sent from media corporations and companies to clients.

This is believed to affect the Muslim Brotherhood group, which has depended on this service as a publicity tool since 2005.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a banned group whose candidates run as independents. They had gained 20 percent of seats in the last Parliament. They have recently announced they will run again in the coming elections.

The government measures could be an attempt by authorities to tighten their grip on information and media commentary as Egypt`s political scene becomes increasingly tense before the parliamentary vote and a Presidential Election next year.

Independent daily Al-Misri al-Yawm quoted an anonymous head of one the service providers on October 12 as saying that the new regulations included "censoring the texts and using three percent of the company`s revenues to fund the censors` salaries".

Recently, editor-in-chief of independent Al-Dustur newspaper Ibrahim Isa has been sacked.

The owners said that the sacking was due to "financial differences” and Isa`s "insistence on using indecent language in his writings".

However, Isa told several news outlets that the dismissal "had been planned".

The government says they are just organising the media scene and leading the way for some sort of media charter.

While critics say these measures aim at "silencing" anti-government media voices before the Parliamentary Elections next month and the Presidential Elections in 2011.

Egypt`s Journalists` Union, which is known to be pro-government if not controlled by the government, issued a statement accusing the government of "cracking down on media outlets critical of the authorities" as part of "an organised attack on media freedom".

Many commentators criticised the government for its actions writing "Egypt`s tolerance is dwindling and its sensitivity is swelling concerning the issue of freedom of expression”.

Another writes: "The honeymoon period that existed between the government and the independent newspapers has gone and no writer or journalist will have any sort of immunity from now on."

Meanwhile, several Facebook groups were launched as response to these freedom crippling measures.

Over the past five years there was a boom of independent newspapers and privately owned satellite stations, which raised the ceiling of media freedom and touched on issues never discussed before such as who will succeed Hosni Mubarak as Egypt`s president.

Generally, the media was quite critical of the government.

PTI