Advanced Television

Nilesat facing censorship claims

November 2, 2010



Egypt is getting tough with some contentious channels and, meanwhile, there’s some highly vocal Arab criticism that ordering channels off  Nilesat is directly linked to upcoming presidential elections in Egypt.

‘Not so’, implies Nilesat’s chief engineer Salah Hamza. “We have no formal regulator covering satellite transmission. There is no Ofcom, no FCC, no CSA. We had always hoped that the market, perhaps with a little help from us, would regulate itself,” said Hamza. “[We thought] that a poor channel or a channel with bad ideas would close.  It has been said that some channels have powerful and wealthy backers, but I can tell you that the channels we have removed are all profitable channels.  They are making very good revenues. Unfortunately some of their material is very naïve.”

He explained that, in the main, the channels were promoting highly profitable “medical” remedies, usually with little or no foundation as to any practical benefit, and frequently based on plant extracts.  “They would promote these plant remedies and say they would cure this or that disease or problem, or boost someone’s sexual performance.  All our advice is that the claims are quite untrue.” Further  adding to the complications is the fact that in some Middle East countries the products being sold are reportedly licensed as medications, but not in others!”

“Then there are other channels which claim to have this or that religious expert on the air, and frequently giving out thoughts and ideas that are plainly wrong.  The problem is they are appealing for funds, and seemingly receiving them. We are happy to carry religious channels, from any persuasion, but the people on air must be qualified,” says Hamza.

Hamza said that some channels had received warnings from the countries where the uplink licences had been issued, so were fairly easy to deal with.  He added that other channels were exploiting the more vulnerable viewer, with near-gambling elements. “The games were quite stupid, asking viewers to say what number comes between 4 and 6, and saying they could win $10,000 if they got it right, and depending on premium-rate telephone calls to make their returns. Worse, we understand they weren’t even selecting a ‘winner’,” he said. 

“We would love to have an Ofcom to put a stop to this stupidity, but we don’t, so we have to take action ourselves. The one channel quickly became two, then three, and more as people realised how easily money could be made. We have not stopped a single channel because of religion but only to stop these quite stupid channels from exploiting viewers. We are aware of our responsibilities in this region. The whole region is conservative, and some parts are extremely conservative, especially those areas that do not have cinemas or theatres. We have a responsibility to ensure that broadcasters remember these sensitivities.”

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