Egypt cancels BBC election coverage

BBC Arabic service has accused Egyptian state security of preventing media coverage of parliamentary elections and compelling its crew to return to Britain.

An official from BBC Arabic told Al-Masry Al-Youm that as its crew prepared for filming a program hosting influential leaders of Egypt’s political opposition, Wagdi al-Shennawi, the manager studio in which they were taping, demanded security service approval.

After turning to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologyfor help, it insisted that the matter must be settled directly with security services. When the crew contacted head of Egyptian Television’s news center, Abdel Latif al-Menawi, he said the issue needed to be settled with al-Shennawi.

According to the same official, the program intended to host Mona Makram Ebeid from the Wafd Party, Gehad Ouda from the ruling National Democratic Party, Osama al-Ghazali Harb, the leader of the Democratic Front Party, and Helmi al-Gazzar, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The program was scheduled to air on November 24th.

When BBC spoke with officials from the state-run Egyptian Television, they said they objected to the appearance of Harb and al-Gazzar on the show. Since the program could not be broadcast without them, the official added, the crew decided to return to London.

Meanwhile, al-Shennawi contradicted BBC’s account by saying its crew only required authorization from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, not the security services. Since it could not fulfill this condition, however, it was requested to sign a document accepting responsibility for the show’s content, but the crew declined.

Al-Menawi denied interfering with execution of the show because it was planning to host a Brotherhood leader, noting that Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie appeared on Al Jazeera satellite television the same day and spoke about the election.

Al-Menawi said that following the affair, BBC seems intent on stirring up public controversy. He added that it wants to blame security services for its failure to prepare a report on Egypt’s elections.

Al-Menawi went on to say that he will lodge a complaint against BBC Arabic’s crew.

“Minutes before the shooting, security services called and arbitrarily stopped production,” the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said in a statement on Saturday.

The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reported that strict instructions were distributed to all satellite channels ahead of the parliamentary elections.

The statement added that two reporters from Al-Jazeera’s network were arrested “in an attempt to disrupt the channel’s work hours before the elections.”

“Channels working in Egypt are not free to cover elections anywhere in the country,” read the statement, adding that TV stations were requested to inform the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of their operations.

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