Cairo: A prominent Egyptian political talk show host on Friday suspended his program indefinitely to protest what he said were efforts by the country`s military rulers to stifle free expression.
The presenter, Yosri Fouda, has come to symbolise what many in Egypt see as the future of an independent and professional media after decades of control and meddling by the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
But the council of generals that took power from Mubarak have implemented a series of measures in recent months that media and rights groups say aim to restore state meddling in the media just weeks before the country`s first parliamentary elections since the revolution. The authorities have frozen new licenses for private satellite TV stations and are taking steps against broadcasters they say are inciting violence or are violating their station`s mandate.
Fouda, a former investigative reporter at the BBC and Al Jazeera, said in a statement posted online that his decision to call off his "The Final Word" program is a protest against "increasing efforts "to maintain the core of the regime which people went out into the streets to bring down, after it filled our world with corruption, immorality and treachery."
"This is a cry from the heart," he said. "Egypt deserves better than this."
An episode of Fouda`s show scheduled to run on Thursday was taken off the air. Fouda did not say whether it was his decision to scrap the show or whether he was forced to cancel the program.
"This is my way of self-censorship, either to say the truth or to be silent," he said.
Fouda`s program on the private ONTV station was slated to host a vocal critic of Egypt`s military rulers, internationally renowned writer Alaa el-Aswani, as well as another presenter who had interviewed two generals from the ruling military council the night before.
They were expected to discuss the interview the night before, when the generals avoided answering any specific questions about their role in the crackdown on a protest a week earlier that left 27 protesters, mostly Christians, dead. Their appearance seemed to be part of a publicity campaign to fend off unprecedented criticism over the military`s handling of the protests.
"Is it now banned for anyone to criticise the military council?" el-Aswani wrote on his Twitter account. "The revolution needs another round."
Instead, the program caused more anger among activists who saw it as an attempt to evade responsibility.
Hisham Qassem, a publisher and human rights activist, said there were "alarming" signs of the military`s meddling in media affairs. He urged other media personalities to protest in solidarity with Fouda and other newspapers which were recently confiscated or channels denied permits.
"They are hunting us one by one," he said. "We need to be informed. This is a future of a nation. There is no way we can go about it if they start gagging us."
Fouda covered the protests that forced Mubarak out of office on February 11. Following Mubarak`s ouster, Fouda clearly sided with the protesters, and gained credibility among viewers and many pro-reform activists for his in-depth coverage of Egypt`s transition to democracy, which broke away from the often sensational Egyptian media.
Belal Fadl, a columnist and presenter on Tahrir TV, a new station founded after the uprising and named after the square that served as the uprising`s epicentre, urged Fouda to spell out the pressure he came under.
He said journalists and activists have begun organising a new privately owned station called "The People Want" as a way to circumvent state censorship and control.