* Al Jazeera’s signal disrupted, claims sabotage
* Egypt calls for independent probe, denies responsibility
By Dina Zayed and Regan E. Doherty
CAIRO/DOHA (Reuters) - Egypt and Qatari-based broadcaster Al Jazeera have locked horns over claims of interference in the transmission of World Cup soccer matches.
Egypt wants an independent oversight body to investigate Al Jazeera’s claim that an Egyptian-managed satellite service carrying its signal was deliberately sabotaged.
A presenter at half-time of the opening match between South Africa and Mexico called on viewers to switch to a rival satellite service after significant disruption to Al Jazeera’s signal on Nilesat, which is run by Egypt’s broadcasting union.
Al Jazeera, which has FIFA-backed exclusive World Cup airing rights for the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, also suffered disruption to its coverage of the Argentina versus Nigeria match on Saturday.
“Al Jazeera Network is currently investigating the sabotage of the transmission of the 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage that was deliberately jammed on the Nilesat satellite,” the channel said in an emailed statement.
“Al Jazeera is taking every possible measure to uncover those behind the incident and to hold them responsible for the interruption of the signal,” it added.
Egypt rejected the satellite company had any hand in the disruption or that it had mismanaged the broadcast.
“We will launch an official complaint with the International Communications Association to investigate this incident,” said Ahmed Anis, chairman of the Nilesat service, that broadcasts more than 450 TV channels from its two satellites.
“We will follow through with all legal measures to respond to such false accusations against Nilesat and its executives,” Osama El-Sheikh, head of the Egypt Radio and Television Union was quoted as saying by Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA.
Egypt bought airing rights from Al Jazeera for more than a dozen World Cup matches to be broadcast on terrestrial television channels, to give its viewers access to games that were only to be broadcast on channels managed by Al Jazeera and offered on subscription.
The World Cup opening match and several other games were aired on Al Jazeera’s free satellite channel, a decision the network announced on the eve of the Cup’s kickoff.
FIFA said in a statement that it was “appalled” by any action to try to stop the transmission of World Cup matches.
“Such actions deprive football fans from enjoying the world game in the region. It is not acceptable to FIFA,” the soccer body said in a statement.
Al Jazeera, based in Doha and funded by the Qatari government, aims to compete with networks like the BBC and CNN.
Though small — its native population numbers slightly more than 200,000 — Qatar is a rising regional player. Its copious supplies of natural gas have turned it into the world’s wealthiest country per capita. A Reuters poll in April showed Qatar’s economy was likely to expand by 16.1 percent this year.
Many analysts say that Qatar’s vast resources and recent successes in the diplomatic sphere have irritated Egypt — the Arab world’s most populous country and traditional power broker — which views diminutive Qatar as an upstart encroaching on its long-held territory.