Reporters fear wave of censorship to follow

LONDON — Egyptian satellite operator Nilesat has yanked London-based Arab news channel Al-Hiwar off the air.

Human rights and media groups have criticized the move, which comes just weeks after a new charter, dubbed “Principles for Regulating Satellite TV in the Arab World,” was nearly unanimously adopted following a meeting of information ministers from the Arab League in Cairo Feb. 12.

As the charter was put forward by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, some local commentators have linked the decision to nix Al-Hiwar with the channel’s past criticism of Egyptian government policy.

Al-Hiwar was founded in 2006 by managing editor Azzam Al-Tamimi,

A statement from media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said: “Nilesat’s decision confirms the fears we expressed when Arab League members signed a media charter. The threat has been carried out and we now fear a wave of censorship measures against satellite TV stations that criticize Arab governments. This was an arbitrary decision against which Al-Hiwar was unable to defend itself or lodge an appeal.”

Nilesat officials, however, have denied that they or the Arab league charter had anything to do with the decision.

“Anyone who reads the sections of the charter document will realize that it has not been implemented yet and that it doesn’t possess a mechanism for implementing it,” Nilesat chief exec Amine Baysouni told Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. “How can this document lead to banning the broadcasting of a television channel that has a binding contract with Nilesat that forces us to broadcast the channel over the specified frequencies?”

Al-Tamimi has said he will begin broadcasting from other satellite operators in defiance of the decision.

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