Since the January 25 Revolution in 2011, Egypt has seen a marked increase in the number of available television satellite channels, however many of them are unregulated, and have been accused of broadcasting pirated content; based outside Egypt, they are outside the reach of domestic authorities, and have also served as a medium for the advertisement of unlicensed or illegal health products.
Legal action against these channels, however, can be like diving down a rabbit hole for film studios, since many channels falsify registration documents, and are based outside Egypt, making government regulation almost impossible.
“We have discovered that channels which broadcast commercials for medical products do so without first getting official licenses from the concerned body, which is the Ministry of Health,” said Atef Yaaqoub, the head of the Consumer Protection Agency.
Yaaqoub told The Cairo Post that the CPA has cooperated with the Association for Viewers and Readers Protection and a group of medical experts since Ramadan 2013, the peak season for broadcasting TV commercials, to monitor what is aired on those satellite channels.
He said that in order to press charges against channels, they need to have documented evidence to prove a violation, which is a lengthy process; they first must contact the Ministry of Health about commercials in which are confirmed to be unlicensed, “then we file police reports against those products and channels,” he said.
Some channels have been shut down and products confiscated, including a suit against the Cairo Cinema channel and Master Organic company for selling a Chinese “slimming tea.” Yaaqoub said, nevertheless, the Consumer Protection Agency are now establishing their own Media Observatory to monitor and record broadcasted content themselves to make the process faster and easier to report.
“What we can do is reach those channels and their owners through Interpol, because those satellites have a management even if they are outside the country. We will file lawsuits against the pirated content we manage to document,” he said, adding that even if they air from another country, they still show their channels and offer their products in Egypt, presenting a domestic risk.
“There should be a control mechanism from the investment authority’s part for managing the media zone, and monitoring channels and what exactly they broadcast.” Yaaqoub said.
According to articles 24 and 25 of the Consumer Protection law, it is illegal to advertise for a product that has no license from the concerned body, and advertising products that do not have Egyptian standard specifications is considered fraud.
Yaaqoub said that those products claim in their commercials that the government licenses them, when they do not.
“There is no firm observation on what is being viewed on television, or even who is permitted to open a new satellite channel,” said Yaaqoub.
“Even competitions sponsored by television and also mobile telecommunications companies follow the same concept. They are misleading ads.” Yaaqoub said, adding that some people have filed complaints that they receive constant messages on their phones requesting them to answer questions for the chance to win a large prize, but users end up paying “thousands of pounds” in their phone monthly bill for no gain.
How to open your own TV channel?
The application process to open a channel does not require a declaration of intended content, said Abdel Moneim el-Alfy, vice president of the Investment Authority and head of Egypt Free Media Zone. “For instance if one wants to open a film channel they are not required to state what their sources for screening films would be,” he added.
“There are only general concepts that they have to agree to abide to, like respecting intellectual property rights,” he said.
Nile Sat is the name of a series of Egyptian communications satellites responsible for operating Egyptian satellites and broadcasting channels, and it operates from the Free Media Zone in the Egyptian Media City.
Alfy told The Cairo Post that there are other satellites that broadcast channels in Egypt that are not transmitted through Nilesat, and are therefore not under the media zone’s control. Among those satellites are Jordanian Noursat and the French Hot Bird, which have been accused of broadcasting pirated films and advertising unlicensed products.
In order for a channel to receive a broadcast license in Egypt, a company must adhere to set of terms and conditions which include having certain capital, renting a studio in the Egyptian media city, and submitting to an investigation of their background, Alfy said.
He added that Nilesat is responsible for transmitting 700 channels, however only 100 of them are licensed from the investment authority and free media zone. “The others are broadcast from other countries and satellites, like Al Jazeera and Orbit channels,” he said.
Movie channels, everywhere…
According to a media free zone statement, none of their licensed channels show pirated films, but channels that air from outside Egypt are not controlled by the Egyptian government. “Only those affected by the televised content can issue complaints and file lawsuits against them abroad.” Alfy said.
Mohamed Hegazy, the secretary general of the Egyptian Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights told The Cairo Post that the center, established in 2005, is responsible for raising awareness about intellectual property rights in Egypt and informing people what the proper procedures are for protecting those rights, which they do through their website and by hosting workshops and lectures.
Hegazy said that Egypt is party to international agreements that support intellectual property rights, however “we still have trouble preserving them.”
“TV satellite channels are not the only violators who pirate films. For instance, DVDs of films that are still showing in cinema houses are sold in streets and uploaded on the internet,” Hegazy said.
Producer Mohamed El Adl of El Adl Group Production Company, said that when they searched for the owners of TV satellite channels that had broadcast pirated films, they found out that the addresses registered for them in satellite channels’ databases were false. “That’s why we could never reach the owners of those channels and companies” he said, adding that even issuing lawsuits against those channels “gets them nowhere.”
El Adl explained that this is “destroying” the cinema industry in Egypt, adding over 15 channels show films that are still being screened in cinema houses, and because the makers of those films do not receive any royalties for the films being shown.
One of those channels that broadcast pirated material and films is “Toktok cinema” channel, he said, adding that it once even showed a trailer of a New Century production film “Al Ashash,” last year.
New Century Production company’s manager Ahmed Badawy told The Cairo Post that this channel aired their trailer without their consent, and said that they too have had failed attempts at filing lawsuits. “When a film of ours is shown on a channel, we make a claim and file a lawsuit against the channel. But it remains unmoved,” Badawy said.
Alfy also said that the fact that there isn’t a certain body authorized to monitor the content broadcasted on television stations “is why there needs to be one that includes different professions to determine the validity of what is being aired.”
“If the government does not cooperate with us on this, then it is part of the destruction of the film industry,” El Adl said.