Monday 11 July 2011

Egypt Pulls Plug on Libyan TV after "Al-Qaeda" Jibes

Egypt's Nilesat satellite has dropped Libyan state TV broadcasts, which allegedly incited violence against anti-Gaddafi rebels.

"No comment!"

Article first published as Egypt Pulls Plug on Libyan TV after "Al-Qaeda" Jibes on Technorati

In response to months of protests by Libyans living in Egypt, the authorities in Cairo on 11 July ordered Egypt's state-owned operator Nilesat to pull the plug on Libyan state TV satellite broadcasts to the Middle East and North Africa.

An Egyptian court ruled that Nilesat should take 16 Libyan satellite channels off the air, the official MENA news agency reported. The barred channels carry sports and variety programming as well as news, current affairs and talk shows.

The ruling by the Cairo Administrative Court followed lawsuits filed by Libyan citizens and Egyptian lawyers who complained that Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi was using Libya's state TV channels to incite violence against rebels fighting to overthrow him. The complainants also accused the channels of false reporting.

Since anti-Gaddafi protests began on 17 February, Libyan state TV has alleged on occasions that the uprising was being fomented by Al-Qaeda and "foreign elements".

One of the channels affected by today's ruling, Al-Libiyah TV, affiliated with Gaddafi's son Sayf-al-Islam, last month accused the opposition of broadcasting "Christian missionary messages" from the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

"The rebel leadership based in the eastern city of Benghazi has repeatedly accused Gaddafi of using state media as a weapon in the war that has left thousands dead," the French news agency AFP reported.

AFP recalled that in June 2011, NATO had denied Libyan accusations that it had targeted the country's state broadcaster's facilities in Tripoli.

In May the Arab League ordered the intergovernmental organization Arabsat to stop carrying Libyan state TV broadcasts.

The Libyan rebels themselves have two main TV channels: Libya al-Hurra ("Free Libya"), which started as a web-based streaming operation at the beginning of the uprising, and now transmits via satellite from Benghazi; and Libya TV, a pro-opposition TV station based in Qatar, which has been broadcasting since the end of March.
State-run media in Libya today initially ignored the Egyptian decision, filling their bulletins instead with the usual denunciations of the rebels and NATO strikes.

But before long Gaddafi, not known for championing media pluralism in Libya during his 41-year rule, will very likely claim that his country's state-run TV channels are now the victims of media censorship imposed by his Arab brothers in neighbouring Egypt.

Friday 8 July 2011

Kuwaiti Net Mogul Launches Arab Online Political Forum

One of the world's leading internet developers hopes his new site will become a leading political forum in the Arab world.

Thunayan Khalid al-Ghanim

Article first published as Kuwaiti Net Mogul Launches Arab Online Political Forum on Technorati.

London, 6 July: Kuwaiti businessman Thunayan Khalid al-Ghanim (also known online as Elequa) is one of the foremost internet developers in the world.

Over the past decade his British Virgin Islands-based company Future Media Architects (FMA) has built up a portfolio of some 120,000 domain names, valued at over $3 billion. His top names include, and Music.TV. And unlike most other internet investors seeking to profit from domain names, FMA is known for its rigid policy of refusing to sell the names it owns.

In London I caught up with Thunayan, an artist and sculptor before he turned internet entrepreneur, to ask him about the latest phase of his varied career - as a champion of free expression online in the Arab world.

As the Middle East and North Africa are convulsed by the fastest-moving period of revolutionary change in 60 years, Thunayan has launched, a website in Arabic and English that he intends to develop into a major online political forum.

As well as a general discussion area, the site has separate sections including women's rights, cultural affairs, an archive project collating historical political transcripts, and a section called Transparency, "for whistleblowers to expose scandals and secret files". Bloggers can also post their own articles or opinion pieces in a separate area.

" is a forum for Arabs by Arabs - and anyone around the world who is interested in Arab issues - from every segment of society, without bias or preference for one voice over another, to create their reality without censorship or guardianship, where each person is responsible for their exercise of free choice and expression," he explained.

No Political Ambitions

The launch of signifies "recognition of the power of the new citizen journalist generation", Thunayan said. It is a site committed to providing "a zone free of censorship for civil objective dialogue that excludes no one."

The site describes itself as "a platform for Middle East voices and those interested in and knowledgeable about the region". But it does not represent or support any political or religious group or party, and he has no personal political ambitions, the 41-year-old international "domain artist" insisted.

"I come from a long family lineage of historical political leaders and oppositionists, though I’m not a politician myself and have no ambitions to be one," Thunayan said. "My family background ingrained in me early awareness of the condition of the world we live in and a concern with its issues, probably earlier than a child should have. I have encountered and inherited injustices in my life, and it’s through those trials that my belief in the human spirit and the value of freedom and truth has developed."

Social Media And The Arab Spring

Commenting on the part played by social media and citizen journalists in the Arab Spring, Thunayan agreed that social media were useful tools, but there had to be old-fashioned political organizing and grass-roots activism to begin with.

"History is not made by super-powers of heaven or earth, it’s human-made through the collective exercise of humanity expressing itself freely. The Arab Spring is a case of little brother taking over big brother, a David and Goliath scenario if you like, where too many little people are moving at once too fast for the organized power to control the power of organized chaos," he argued.

Thunayan believes that the tools of social media - including Facebook, Twitter and blogs - are replacing the traditional broadcast media because of what he calls their "instancy": "Television and radio, for those with access to the internet, have become archaic in my point of view, maybe good for entertainment, and even decreasingly at that. Books on the other hand could be served by the fact that most of the internet is the written word, and books being word-based media - I think the book as a concept will survive, as long as the format changes. The book industry should accept the progress of the digital evolution of the word."

Arab Governments And The Internet

"I believe in the free flow of information," said Thunayan, who was scathing about the attempts of Arab governments to regulate the internet and online media. "Regulatory bodies in the Arab world don't know how to use the filters that they buy. Quite legitimate discussion sites could be blocked, for example, if they contain words such as 'adult' or 'sexism'," he added. "They should restrain themselves rather than absurdly trying to restrain the internet. "

As for the old and discredited state-run newspapers and TV stations across the Arab world, he predicted that their days were nearly over. "They're becoming obsolete. They won't give up, but they're living in their own dimension."

"Pivotal Point in History"

Awareness of is spreading by word of mouth, without publicity, and it is attracting citizen journalists, according to Thunayan.

"The site started with 10,000 visitors a day… We have started a Twitter page to engage with people and invite them to comment…We are mostly republishing at the moment, and have started producing original content. We are targeting writers to give us exclusives and hope in turn to give them an excellent audience… The only thing we won't allow on the site is hate," he said.

Although the launch of coincided with the rise of the Arab Spring, it was not a spur of the moment decision, Thunayan added.

"It has been a long time in the making, of accumulating credible sources, documents and information. It’s not meant to be nothing more that an outlet for a current outburst, as is the case of what I call shout-out websites. It's here for the long haul, with conviction, determination and focus."

The uprisings of the Arab people were not constrictively Arab but an uprising of humanity, he concluded. "My message to those interested and even to those not so interested is to take notice that we are at a pivotal point in history."

Friday 1 July 2011

Revolutions Transform North Africa's Media Landscape

This article was first published in The Middle East magazine, July 2011

Arab journalists at the dawn of the 21st century, far from being defenders of the status quo, "see their mission as driving political and social change," said veteran US journalist Lawrence Pintak in his recent book, "The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil".

The rapid transformations in North African media during the Arab Spring show that they are embracing that mission with enthusiasm, replacing the formerly state-dominated media.

Fighting in Libya and political upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt have brought unprecedented changes to the media landscape, as new broadcasters, publications and websites have emerged.

Pundits differ over the role played by online media and social networking sites in fuelling the unrest, and the media revolution that has ensued.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the blogging, video sharing, text messaging and live streaming from mobile phones of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and Tunis as a "seismic shift" in how journalists rely on the Internet and other digital tools. But the CPJ warned that oppressive regimes were also showing increasing sophistication in using the tools of new technology to suppress information.

For established broadcasters, the Arab uprisings have brought a surge in viewing figures, but with no corresponding economic benefit.

Audiences for satellite TV news channels, primarily the leading pan-Arab stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, have doubled in key markets such as Saudi Arabia, the Dubai-based Pan-Arab Research Centre (PARC) reports.

However, spending on TV advertising across the Arab world has slumped. In Egypt, it was down by 97% in February and 78% in March 2011, compared with the same months a year ago, PARC added.

"Voice of Free Libya"

Since the 17 February 2011 uprising, various opposition groups in rebel-held areas in eastern Libya, as well as abroad, launched their own affiliated newspapers, websites, radio and satellite TV stations to counter what they termed the "propaganda" of the state-controlled broadcaster.

"Voice of Free Libya" radio stations went on air in Benghazi and Al-Bayda, as well as the besieged rebel-held port of Misrata in the west. The rebel-linked stations reflect a mix of Islamist and Libyan nationalist views in their programmes. In the town of Nalut in the mountains of western Libya, journalists who had formerly broadcast pro-Gaddafi material on the local radio station switched sides, relaunching it as "Radio Free Nalut".

Of the new opposition satellite TV channels, the slickest is Libya TV, launched at the end of March. It is based for the time being in Qatar, the first Arab country to recognize the Transitional National Council, the opposition shadow government.

After more than 40 years of state control over the media, apart from a short-lived period when Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam operated the country's first privately-owned media outlets, it is no surprise that most journalists in Libya fall short on production and technical skills.

But they make up for this in creativity and enthusiasm. The Voice of Free Libya broadcasts include revolutionary music, popular songs by Arab divas like Fairuz, poetry with rebel themes, and phone-in programmes allowing citizens to air their views and grievances.

State-run Al-Jamahiriyah TV went on the counter-offensive, launching an English-language TV channel to convey the Gaddafi regime's views to international audiences. The channel took the line that the uprising in Libya was fomented by Al-Qaeda and "foreign elements".

Libyan state TV says its external service has been deliberately jammed. Air strikes on Tripoli by NATO-led forces have also intermittently disrupted state-controlled TV broadcasts.

Mixed signals for Egyptian media

The media in Egypt were already cowed by the severe crackdown that preceded the November 2010 parliamentary elections. Now media outlets are moving cautiously, after being given mixed signals.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces warned in March that it would carry out prior vetting of all reporting on topics covering Egypt's military establishment. In late April it said that it would not interfere in media policy. But in May, the Council warned against websites and Facebook pages which could, in its words, "incite sectarianism and violence and spread rumours that could destabilize the country".

Many laws impeding media freedom are still to be abolished. When a military court sentenced an Egyptian blogger to three years in jail in April for defaming the army and "disseminating false information", journalists got the message that limits on free speech still apply, particularly where the armed forces are concerned.

The new heads of state newspapers, TV and radio appointed by the government after President Mubarak was ousted in February have been accused of having close links with the former regime.

On the plus side, the new government has brought in new rules making it easier for privately-owned TV channels to launch, and 16 new channels have already been approved.

A debate is under way about whether foreign models for media reform are compatible with Egypt's still-evolving political reality. But the vast majority of the tens of thousands of mainstream journalists still operate in a culture of self-censorship.

Tunisian authorities stall

Aspiring media entrepreneurs in Tunisia are already accusing the interim government of using outdated bureaucratic procedures to block private broadcasting.

More than 40 applicants have sought approval to launch new radio and TV stations, but the authorities claim that the number of "frequencies" is limited.

In mid-May, activists reported cases of resumed internet censorship. And journalists also complain that they are still not free to do their jobs because of attacks and threats by security police, party activists and demonstrators.

A long-term goal

With government institutions in North Africa accustomed to decades of state control over the media, not everyone regards Western-style media pluralism as the highest priority, so significant reform could take years to consolidate.

As happened in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, many new broadcasters and publications have been launched, but not all will survive.

Some will go under for financial reasons such as high printing and production costs or lack of advertising, or because they have fulfilled their short-term political objectives of spreading a particular group's message, or because the market simply cannot sustain too many competitors. Others, especially web-based media which are cheaper to operate, may enjoy a longer existence.