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Egyptian censorship advocate is frontrunner for post of UNESCO Director-General

Egyptian censorship advocate is frontrunner for UNESCO Director-General
Hardliner: Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni is one of the nine candidates for the post of the UNESCO Director-General.

Negotiations are under way in Paris to select a new Director-General for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to replace Koichiro Matsuura of Japan, who has held the position for 10 years. UNESCO’s executive council will choose his successor by secret vote in a session that began Monday and ends on September 23. Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni is one of the nine candidates.

“Farouk Hosni needs to show that he is committed to UNESCO's values, something he has not managed to do during the past 25 years,” Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) said. “This Egyptian government minister needs to demonstrate a full commitment to free expression by publicly condemning press freedom violations and arrests of bloggers.”

RSF pointed out that UNESCO’s mandate includes promoting free expression and press freedom as basic human rights, encouraging media independence and diversity as preconditions for democratisation, and supporting the free flow of information, including on the Internet.

President Hosni Mubarak’s culture minister since 1987, Hosni has been one of the leading protagonists of government censorship in the Arab Republic of Egypt during this period, constantly seeking to control both press freedom and his fellow citizens’ right to freedom of information.

Any attempt to found a newspaper in Egypt has to be endorsed by not only the High Press Council, which is headed by the president, but also by the Cabinet and by the various security services. A newspaper can be closed at any time if it is deemed to have published an article posing a threat to national security. At the same time, the government owns 99 per cent of the country’s newspaper retail outlets and has a monopoly of newspaper printing. This allows it to censor a newspaper at any time.

Even if privately-owned opposition and independent newspapers are on sale in newsstands alongside the government press, there are risks attached to being outspoken. A total of 32 articles in different laws – including the criminal code, the press law, the publications law, the law on state documents (which forbids journalists to access certain official documents), the civil service law and the political parties law – stipulate penalties for the media.

The Internet had become a refuge for free expression in the face of such constraints but, since last year, control of the Internet has been reinforced. All Wi-Fi connections now have to be paid for and in order to connect, an email address must be given to which the required username and password is sent.

An Internet regulation bill is currently before parliament that would make “improper use of the Internet” and the “posting of multimedia content without government authorisation” punishable by imprisonment. Many bloggers were arrested after calls for a major protest on April 6, 2008 were launched online.

In an attempt to control the country’s image, the authorities have been hounding both the press and Internet users since 2008 and, since January of this year, an average of one complaint a day has been brought against a journalist or blogger.

The Egyptian government launched an offensive against independent TV stations at the start of the 2008. In February of that year, it got the Arab League to adopt a common charter that restricts the freedom of satellite TV stations and provides for sanctions for programme content that causes offence. Several Egyptian production companies working with foreign satellite TV stations have since been censored.

The charter was criticised by journalists but not by the head of Nilesat, a satellite operator owned by the Egyptian government, which supports the creation of a regional regulatory authority with the power to issue licences. At the moment, TV stations that want to transmit via Nilesat must obtain the approval of the Egyptian government, which monitors their content closely. TV stations that dare to criticise are not welcome. The privately-owned TV station Al-Hiwar, for example, was dropped by Nilesat on 1 April 2008 without any explanation being given.

The security forces seized equipment from the Cairo News Company (CNC), the main supplier of broadcast equipment and services to many foreign news media, on April 17, 2008, one week after Al Jazeera, one of its leading clients, broadcast footage of the 6 April 2008 protests. It was not until a year later, on 19 April 2009, that the judicial proceedings against the CNC and its CEO were quashed on appeal.

A new broadcasting bill which the government submitted in June 2008 and parliament began examining in November poses a danger to broadcast journalists. It would introduce new penalties of between one month and three years in prison and would threaten free speech by making it possible for journalists to be prosecuted for “attacking social peace, national unity, public order and society’s values.”

Mostly using very vague working, the bill also provides for the creation of a national broadcasting regulatory agency to be headed by information ministry officials and members of the state security services that would be empowered to withdraw a news media’s licence arbitrarily.

Egypt was ranked 146th out of 173 countries in the 2008 RSF press freedom index.

Date posted: September 9, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 328