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Tue 19 Feb 2008 02:54 AM

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Broadcast charter not restrictive, claims Egypt

Country will defend freedom of expression, says information minister.

Egypt said on Monday that a charter adopted last week imposing regulations on Arab satellite televisions which was condemned by media watchdogs is not meant to restrict freedom.

The charter "is not aimed at restricting freedom of the media but rather to organise it at a time when satellite channels are spreading ignorant (messages) and illegitimate religious edicts," information minister Anas al-Fiqi said in an interview carried by the official Mena news agency.

Information ministers of the 22-member Arab League voted in favour of the guidelines on Tuesday, with Qatar the only dissenting vote.

The document, which is not legally binding, was principally backed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia and calls for the channels "not to offend the leaders or national and religious symbols" of Arab countries.

"We support freedom of expression and freedom of the media and we will continue to defend it," Fiqi said.

The Cairo document authorises signatory countries to "withdraw, freeze or not renew the work permits of media which break the regulations."

It stipulates that satellite channels "should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values."

Programming should also "conform with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and take account of its family structure."

The document was strongly criticised by media watchdogs.

"This is an unacceptable move on the part of autocratic governments to rob viewers of the already small amount of broadcast freedom they have enjoyed on private television," Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists Joel Simon said in a statement.

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