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Cablegate: Al Hurra Meets with Minister of Information

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #1793 2271405
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141405Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 0237

UNCLAS CAIRO 001793

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR R, NEA/ELA, NEA/PPD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL BBG KPAO EG
SUBJECT: AL HURRA MEETS WITH MINISTER OF INFORMATION

Sensitive but unclassified. Please handle accordingly.
1. (SBU) Summary: Al Hurra officials met with Information
Minister Anas El Fikki to discuss options for broadcasting
portions of a three-hour daily live television program from
Cairo. Minister Fikki was adamant that all satellite
transmissions for this program be transmitted from within
Media City. Based on current licensing and construction
requirements, the estimated date for actual broadcasting from
a Media City studio is December 2009. End summary.

2. (SBU) Middle East Broadcasting Networks President Brian
Conniff and Al Hurra Director of Program Review and Research
Vatche Sarkisian met with Information Minister El Fikki on
August 6, 2008, to discuss Al Hurra's new three-hour daily
live TV program. The proposed program is a news and
lifestyle program with live broadcast segments from Dubai,
Beirut and Cairo, with production coordination at the Al
Hurra studios in Springfield, VA. The Minister did not
comment on the program content, but was adamant that any
satellite transmissions for this show originate from the
Media Free Zone (Media City), repeating several times "Any
transmission for this show that is not done through Media
City would be illegal." This program concept had been
previously raised several times with the Minister, but this
was the first response from the Minister to either BBG
representatives or Emboffs.

3. (SBU) Media City was established in the 1990s in an area
west of downtown Cairo for independent and foreign
broadcasters. However, television studios do in fact exist
outside of Media City. For example, the Associated Press
owns a television studio located in downtown Cairo, as do
other video production companies. In addressing the
distinction, El Fikki pointed out that these others are
transmitting small segments of shows, such as sound bites and
film footage of a few minutes duration. "Even if only one
third of this program is coming from Cairo, then that is an
hour, and that is not a segment of a program. It's a program
and it must come from Media City."

4. (SBU) Conniff and Sarkisian met later that day with MFA
Assistant Minister for North American Affairs Amb Hatem Saif
El Nasser, who reiterated the message that all satellite
broadcasting for this proposed program be transmitted from
Media City facilities. El Nasser appeared to be well-briefed
on the proposed program and repeated Min El Fikki's point
that Al Hurra must locate production facilities in Media
City. Conniff expressed his disappointment in the
restrictive policy, which generated a nugget of advice from
El Nasser. He reminded Conniff that in Egypt "all things are
possible," but everything depends on relationships. He
encouraged Conniff to set up shop in Media City, develop good
relationships in Egypt and "see what might be possible" in a
year or two.

5. (U) The following day, Conniff and Sarkisian met with the
Head of the Media Public Free Zone in Media City, Mr. Effat
Abdel Azim. According to Abdel Azim, the initial licensing
to operate in Media City is a one-to-five month process, at
which point groundbreaking could occur to build a studio from
the ground up. He noted that there is currently no available
space for purchase, and he estimated a studio could be ready
for broadcast by December, 2009. He left open the
possibility that things might "work out later", after the
licensing process is complete, saying that it may be possible
to lease existing studio space at some point.

6. (U) MEBN President Brian Conniff did not have an
opportunity to clear this message before departing Cairo.
SCOBEY

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