Sources: Egyptian intelligence issues order banning ministers from appearing on air until further notice

Senior officials in the General Intelligence Services (GIS) have prohibited all state and private TV channels from hosting or airing phone-ins with any government minister, according to three different sources in the Egyptian Media Group, Egyptian Television Network and MBC Misr.

The instructions, which were issued on Sunday, stipulate that — in cases of necessity — any correspondence should be limited to the official spokespersons of each ministry. The content of any discussions should also be restricted to official data or ministerial statements, without touching upon any external topics, according to the sources.

The sources state that no explanation or reasoning was given for the new restrictions, nor was a timeframe set for how long the constraints would remain in place. The order did, however, stress the urgency of implementing the decision immediately.

The new restrictions follow a pattern of the GIS exerting increasing control over the press in recent years through censorship and acquisition. The GIS owns the Egyptian Media Group — the biggest media conglomerate in Egypt, which has several influential newspapers and television outlets under its helm — as well as the DMC television network, which has quickly grown to dominate the local media landscape.

Nevertheless, the new GIS instructions caused a great deal of disturbance within major television outlets, especially since phone-ins with various ministers had already been scheduled the day the directive was issued. But the GIS refused to allow any exceptions or postponements, and ordered TV directors to heed the new rules.

The first person affected by the ban was Minister of Health Hala Zayed, sources say, who was scheduled to appear on four different TV channels on Sunday evening (including MBC Masr and CBC) to discuss the recent dismissal of the director of the National Heart Institute. But Zayed received near simultaneous apologies from directors and producers of all four channels, who cited a “lack of time” and “breaking news coverage” for suddenly cancelling her appearance.

The sweeping and unanticipated new restrictions also sparked confusion among several ministers — including the ministers of religious endowments, youth and sports, and social solidarity — who all thought they were being individually singled out for censorship because of a potential violation they may have committed, the source say. The ministers contacted various TV directors to ask why the ban had been issued and were assured that the restrictions applied to all government ministries across the board.

Mada Masr also spoke to a source inside the General Intelligence Services, who confirms the decision while denying any knowledge of the reasoning behind it. But the source goes on to state that senior intelligence officials have been unhappy with recent statements by various ministries that they viewed as reflecting poorly on the government or as having disclosed sensitive information.

The GIS has typically relied on media advisors to monitor the press and direct coverage of state and private outlets on their behalf. According to the GIS source, the intelligence body is now working to develop a robust mechanism to oversee the appearance of ministers in the media that would cut out the use of media advisors and allow the GIS to directly select which officials are permitted to appear on TV and the specific topics to be discussed.

The source speculates that the new restrictions are temporary until the GIS finalizes the aforementioned framework to make decisions over TV appearances. Yet, even after the total ban is lifted, the source expects that the appearance of ministers on TV will remain limited.

Ashraf Hakim 

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