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Talk show host accuses gov’t of pressuring TV station to yank his show off air
Talk show host Wael al-Ibrashy

After his popular late-night program, “10 o’clock,” was taken off the air mid-broadcast on Sunday, talk show host Wael al-Ibrashy released a statement claiming that the show was suspended due to “political, not technical reasons.”

Ibrashy was critically addressing Egypt’s ministries of education and housing in his program on Sunday when the privately owned satellite channel Dream TV cut the broadcast.

Before airing the episode, Ibrashy said he was warned that ministry representatives were not happy about his reporting on issues related to their work.

“I was told that both ministers threatened with resignation,” he claimed.

“Suspending the show due to pressures by some ministers will never affect my belief in June 30 revolution and the national project that President [Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi represents. But I’m more believing now that there are ministers who do not deserve to belong to this Cabinet, and that their failure is not different from the live shots of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Ibrashy wrote in his statement, which he posted to his official Facebook page.

The ministers of education and housing consistently pressure various satellite television channels to stop broadcasting material that criticizes their performance, Ibrashy claimed.

Ibrashy later posted a video online of the censored episode, in which he rebukes government officials for failing to adequately respond to a fire that had destroyed a market.

Government officials, however, refute Ibrashy’s account of events.

“The government does not intervene in the policies of channels at all. We really appreciate and respect Mr. Ibrashy and the role he plays, but there is no intervention,” Cabinet spokesperson Hossam Qawish said in an interview with the privately owned satellite channel ONtv.

Qawish went on to explain that the government has no control over satellite channels or their content, and that the suspension of Ibrashy’s show was purely Dream TV’s decision.

Confusion has often surrounded recent decisions to take popular talk shows off air, with journalists decrying censorship while television channels and government officials insist there are no political dimensions to these incidents.

In August, a spat between former talk show host Abdel Rehim Ali and business tycoon Naguib Sawiris led to Ali’s show, “The Black Box,” being dropped from broadcast.

The controversial show aired on the privately owned satellite channel Al-Qahera wal Nas.

Ali had gained notoriety for using his show as a platform to leak private phone calls and messages from high-profile political dissidents, many of whom belonged to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group as well as activists who had backed the January 25, 2011 revolution.

In the show’s last episode before it was suspended, Ali leaked a phone call between Sawiris and former Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei.

Ali had previously decried ElBaradei as a traitor to Egypt and part of a Western plot against the nation. In reaction to the show, Sawiris tweeted, “Watching another episode by informer Abdel Rehim Ali will push me to sympathize with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The state of the freedom of the press in Egypt has been a source of alarm for media professionals in the country and abroad, given a host of harsh repressive measures enacted against journalists and media institutions. Since the military-facilitated ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi last year, a number of journalists critical of the military-backed regime have received prison sentences, while others are still in prison pending investigations.

The recent standoff between the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) and the Ministry of Interior was a case in point. AMAY editor-in-chief Ali Al-Sayed and reporter Ahmed Youssef were taken into custody and interrogated for 14 hours after the paper declared it would publish investigation records into alleged fraud in the 2012 presidential election.

The state security prosecution released both men on Thursday with fines of LE2,000 each.

The two journalists were accused of disturbing the peace, spreading false information, stealing interrogation records and publishing news about a case still under investigation by the judiciary.

The prosecutor general issued a publishing ban on the 2012 electoral fraud case following the incident with AMAY, and the newspaper said in a report that it would honor the ban and would not publish the story.

The Ministry of Interior then filed a complaint against Sayed and Youssef, accusing them of stealing investigation records. In turn, Sayed harshly condemned the Interior Ministry for, in his words, trying to close down newspapers in order to silence voices of dissent.

The chief editor added that this was a dangerous step toward restricting freedom of expression, and could herald a return to the oppressive practices that Egyptians had revolted against in 2011.

“The Interior Ministry intervened in an issue that does not fall under its jurisdiction,” AMAY wrote, claiming in its statement that this was a purely judicial issue, as they had agreed to the publishing ban.

The government also halted AMAY from distributing a print issue of the October 1 evening paper on the grounds that included a sensitive interview with an intelligence agent. According to Ahmed Ragab, editor-in-chief of AMAY’s online news portal, the government wanted to review the interview before it was published  in order to make sure it did not reveal sensitive information. When AMAY refused to show security officials the interview in advance, they confiscated the issue from the state-owned Al-Ahram printing offices.