Last week’s Egyptian protests saw Al Jazeera’s signals from Nilesat terminated. The problem meant that Al Jazeera’s viewers had to search the sky for alternate transmissions over the Middle East, not least looking to Arabsat and Eutelsat. The loss of Al Jazeera’s signal meant that subscribers to the Orbit Showtime Network also lost their news feed. The interruption has strained relations between various players in the chain that gets the signals to viewers.
It has now emerged that Nilesat is claiming that Al Jazeera has breached Egypt’s media laws, which give the Egyptian media authorities the ability to cite the contracts between Al Jazeera and Nilesat as being the basis for terminating the broadcaster’s signals. The alleged breaches have also led to the closing (and “burning down”) Al Jazeera’s important news bureau in Cairo and the detention of certain high-profile journalists. Press accreditation of Al Jazeera staff has been cancelled, as was the channel’s license to operate in Egypt.
Al Jazeera is demanding the immediate release of Ayman Mohyeldine, one of its English channel’s correspondents, and Abd-al-Fattah Fayid, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Cairo, and journalist Ahmad Yusuf, each arrested or detained during last week’s protests.
It seems that the Nilesat action, while attempting to straddle the obvious difficulties created by the current problems, is also seeking to show concern for its long-standing client, because serious cash is at stake. Al Jazeera’s contracts with Nilesat (including its sports channels) are believed to be worth around $1m a year to the satellite operator. Moreover, losing the region’s most popular news channel would ultimately have a negative effect on Nilesat’s own overall appeal.
However, cancelling the transmission contract could also open the door for a legal action from Al Jazeera against Nilesat. Al Jazeera’s signals are uplinked to Nilesat from nearby Amman, Jordan, and the CEO at the Jordan Media City teleport, Radi Alkhas, is on record as saying that a legal challenge is being considered.
But Al Jazeera also has a somewhat chequered history of being ‘banned’ by assorted Middle East countries (most recently in Kuwait, Morocco, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen), and of these problems usually being resolved once calmer heads prevailed.