Egypt’s General Authority for Free Zones and Investment (GAFI) on Tuesday sent official “warnings” to Egyptian satellite channels ONTV and Dream TV, in what is being seen by critics as the next chapter in a media clampdown by authorities ahead of parliamentary polls slated for next month.
Both channels are known for airing popular political programs that often criticise Egypt’s interim government and ruling military council.
In its warning to ONTV, GAFI asserted that the nature of the channel’s programming was not consistent with the type of programming for which it had originally obtained its media license.
Owned by Coptic-Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, ONTV was initially launched in 2007 as an entertainment channel. In the two years since, however, the network has shifted towards more news-oriented and political programming.
GAFI has reportedly given the network a couple of days to bring its programming back into line with its original mandate.
GAFI’s warning to satellite channel Dream TV, meanwhile, charged that the channel’s popular weekly talk show, El-Hakika (‘The Truth’) - presented by prominent Egyptian journalist Wael El-Ebrashy - had failed to comply with “the media code of ethics.”
According to Dream TV Executive Manager Mohamed Khedr, GAFI is demanding that both the program’s presenter and producer be penalised.
"The statement we received accused the presenter of expressing his own point of view, but he was only playing the role of devil's advocate," Khedr told Ahram Online. "We don't think the warning has anything to do with the general politics of the network. But the incident is very alarming.”
“The fact that the information minister, or any other leading government figure, would take such measures against the media, and that the authorities would take the case further without proper investigation, represents a direct challenge to freedom of speech,” he added.
Dream TV plans to take all legal steps necessary to refute the complaint, Khedr noted.
Last month, the Cairo office of Al Jazeera Mubasher - an Al Jazeera affiliate devoted exclusively to live broadcasts - was raided twice by Egyptian security forces, due to what authorities claimed was its lack of proper licensing and documentation.
Some 600 satellite channels currently transmit through Egypt’s Nilesat satellite. Of these, only 96 transmit out of Cairo’s media free zone with a license issued by GAFI.