Egypt's Minister of Information Salah Abdel-Maqsoud has said that opposition allegations of a crackdown on media freedom are "slander and misleading attempts to smear the government and the regime."
The minister made the statements during a live television interview on the Mehwar television channel on Monday.
"Egypt's media under the first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, now enjoys the maximum possible freedom since its inception 150 years ago," he said.
Earlier this week prominent television satirist Bassem Youssef was issued an arrest warrant and voluntarily submitted himself to questioning by the prosecutor-general, on charges of denigrating Islam and insulting the president. Youssef had been the target of private lawsuits before on similar charges, but had not been summoned by prosecutors for investigation.
Salafist protesters also held demonstrations last week against the “corruption of the media” outside the Media Production City complex where many private Egyptian television channels are based.
The developments have also alarmed Egypt's opposition, coming a day after nine opposition activists and four lawyers were arrested in Alexandria, and less than a week after legal proceedings were launched by Egypt's top prosecutor against five prominent activists for inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abdel-Maqsoud said that neither the president nor the Muslim Brotherhood nor its Freedom and Justice Party are connected to lawsuits against media figures, adding that complaints were filed by members of the public.
Abdel-Maqsoud also argued that the current regime fosters press and media freedoms. "The first decision President Morsi issued after he assumed legislative power following the dissolution of Egypt's lower house of parliament was the prohibition of pre-trial detention of journalists charged with crimes."
He also voiced his support for "constructive criticism."
Commenting on the protest at Media Production City, Abdel-Maqsoud said that his ministry is not responsible for the management of the complex, as it merely holds 40 percent of its shares.
The minister accused loyalists of the old regime along with other "external parties" of funding some private television channels.
He also said that Egypt's state television and radio had been hit by an acute financial crisis, a reference to recent protests by employees over unpaid salaries.