An Egyptian state-owned satellite company has stopped broadcasts of a controversial Iraqi television station that was showing insurgent videos and denouncing the Shi'ite-led government of Iraq. The move comes after months of pressure from the United States to take the station off the air. The Egyptian company is denying that it has bowed to political pressure and says it stopped the broadcasts for technical reasons. The station's owner says he is planning to take the matter to court. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.
For months, despite U.S. efforts to shut it down, AI-Zawraa kept airing graphic videos of insurgents launching attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
AI-Zawraa's official operations in Iraq were closed in November, but the channel went underground and continued broadcasting through an Egyptian state-owned satellite provider known as Nilesat.
Nilesat resisted months of U.S. pressure to take the station off the air, saying it was legally bound to honor their contract. But now, the broadcasts have stopped.
Nilesat's chairman of the board, Arnin Bassiouni, told VOA it was a technical problem, not a political decision. He said there was some kind of interference in the satellite's transmissions, and the trouble was attributed to Al-Zawraa.
He said, "Yes, it is technical distortion, and I cannot determine where it is coming from."
He said the problem was interfering with other channels carried on the satellite, and "consequently, we stopped the broadcasts."
Bassiouni has always said he has nothing to do with the content of any of the channels broadcast on Nilesat.
In an earlier interview with VOA, he said he could not and would not pull the station off the satellite without a direct order from the government. He still says he has not received that order.
AI-Zawra's owner, Mishan al-Jibouri, said he simply does not believe Nilesat's explanation and plans to take company to court.
He said, "The technical reasons are lies They refuse to answer our phone calls. We wanted to clarify the matter with them, but they refuse to talk to us. We believe this is a political matter, and [the decision] has occurred on a very high level because of American pressure."
The U.S. and Iraqi governments have been pushing Egypt to shut the station down, saying it serves as a propaganda outlet for Iraqi insurgent groups, glorifies insurgent attacks on American troops and incites sectarian hatred in Iraq.
Jibouri said AI-Zawraa is already being broadcast by a different satellite provider, Arabsat, and is in negotiations with two others. So he thinks Nilesat's decision to stop broadcasts will not affect the channel in the long run.
Jibouri denied U.S. allegations that his station has been inciting sectarian violence in Iraq. He said AI-Zawraa has condemned all attacks against civilians, whether Sunni or Shia.
The Egyptian information ministry has refused repeated requests to comment on the matter.