For the first time in Egypt’s history, media and press have been working under the supervision of three bodies affiliated to the state, who were granted all the rights to ban any content, which they view as harmful for the national security or interest of citizens. without clear cut descriptions of alleged crimes and violations, something that was criticised by observers.
The three bodies supervise all Egyptian media outlets’ work. Each has a separate role. The National Media Authority is responsible for supervising radio and broadcast media outlets, the National Press Authority is responsible for supervising state-owned newspapers, and the Supreme Media Council is responsible for overseeing the functions of the two authorities.
This situation is not the first of its kind in Egypt, since media and press have faced the same circumstances for many years, during the time of the Ministry of Information that were in charge of monitoring and regulating the media, but were abolished after 2011 Revolution.
Since 2011 the media and press were left freely without censorship or updated regulationsunregulated, leading to random acts of censorship, in which this resulted in the arrest of dozens of journalists and exposing them to harassment while performingperfoming work that is critical of the decisiondecsion makers.mankers. In the same time, the post-2011 status resulted in presence of several journalist who were not committed to the ethics of the profession, as well as spread of false information that sometimes were against safety and security of people and the state.
The creation of the three bodies was approved by the parliament in December 2016 and signed into law by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in April 2017, which will be replaced with the new law, which is set to determineto determine the work of these bodies and types of their authority over the performance of press institution and media outlets and their workers.
The law was also expected to set up certain criteria and regulation that can save safety and security of the profession and its workers.
However, the results came disappointing to some when the law was preliminarypriliminary approved this June. Also, media workers thought it will save journalists from harassment and respect their dignity, the law came in contrary to all the demands and seemed to impose harsh restrictions, which included media gags, banning the publishing of articles, suspension of journalists, and blocking websites continued as well.
Although it was said that the law to have been was formulated by stakeholders and experts who have long worked in the field; critics think the law has turned a blind eye to incsureinsure safety of journalists and providing them legal immunity.
The parliament’s committee of culture and media is scheduled to discuss remarks made against the law, made by the State Council and others. Also, the head of the committee, Osama Heikal, said that the law will be issued during this current legislative term that will end by end of this month.
Press Syndicate were the first to announce its remarks against the law, pointing out several articles that they believe it does not align with the constitution that guarantees freedom of expression and that they were invited to attend the discussion of the law.
Opponents have agreed that the law is withdrawing the freedoms granted to journalists in the constitution, threatening future of current newspapers and media outlets could displace workers of the field and giving rights to imprisonment of journalists. SimilarySimilarly, Egypt’s HhighesthHighest legal apparatus, the State Council has issued a report including remarks over the constitutionality of the law.
Daily News Egypt publishes some of the most controversial and disputed articles of the law and spoke to a number of experts, whose comments explained why the law could be threatening the future of the journalists and the profession, while others have praised the law. Also, DNE spoke to journalists in the field to inquire about views over the law and to what extent they agree with its content.
Article 4 stipulates that press institutions, media outlets, and news websites shall not broadcast or publish any article or declaration with content contradictory to the Constitution or code of professional conduct, and that the Supreme Media Council can, for reasons of national security, prevent publications, newspapers, media, or advertising materials, issued or broadcast from inside or outside Egypt, from publishing anything that disturbs the public peace or promotes discrimination, violence, racism, hatred, or intolerance. Experts viewed this article as unclear, using vague accusations that did not explain in what cases it could be valid.
Article 5 stipulates that in no case shall a licence or permit be given for the establishment of any press, information, or website, or to allow it to continue its activity, when it is based on religious or doctrinal discrimination. Experts used statements that are not accurate enough and are very difficult to define precisely, “thus broadening the targeting of journalistic practices and seriously harming opinion and expression.”
Article 9 stipulates that the press or media shall have the right to publish information and news, which the law punish its disclosing, but did not mention a determination for what could be a violation of the requirements of national security and defence of the homeland.
Article 12 stipulates that journalists or media personnel have the right to attend conferences and public meetings, conduct meetings with citizens, and photograph in unprohibited public places after obtaining the necessary permits.
Article 16 stipulates that journalists or media personnel shall not be dismissed from their job until being investigated and then notifying the concerned syndicate with the reasons of dismissal, giving 30 days for the syndicate to try to handle the situation and reconcile between two sides. Experts demanded an extension for 90 days to give more time for both.
Article 19 stipulates the Supreme Media Council to stop or block any personal website, blog, or social media account that has a high number of followers—exceeding 5,000—in case it commits a specific offence that will be seen publishing false news or advocating or inciting a violation for law or violence or hate. This article was viewed as attack on personal freedom of opinion and expression, which violates the Constitution.
Article 26 stipulates that journalists or media personnel are not allowed to seek getting advertisements or receive any money or privilege through publishing them, or sign their name or any commercial, if found guilty must refund the cost of these commercials or benefits he obtained back to this press institution or media outlet. State Council said this is article violates the Constitution, which protects private finances from nationalisation or confiscation without a court order.
Article 29—the most controversial—stipulates that journalists should not face per-trial detention, but only in cases of inciting violence or promoting discrimination between citizens, or impugning the honour of individuals. This article came in contradiction with Article 71 of the Constitution, which states that no sanctions may be imposed against freedoms.
Article 54 stated certain capital for all press institutions, TV channels, radio stations, and websites, but in some cases the Supreme Media Council can allow licences for companies that have lower budgets than required for reasons of public interest. The State Council viewed this article as discriminatory and violates the principle of equality.
New law includes many catastrophic articles: Saad Abdel Hafiz
“If the new media and press law will be issued without taking into inconsideration the remarks, we can really say rest in peace journalism,” member of the Press Syndicate’s council, Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafiz told DNE.
“The syndicate has twelve remarks over the law, which gives the Supreme Media Council the right to tear the profession strip freedoms of journalists,” Abdel Hafiz said, explaining that in an urgent meeting on Tuesday, “we demanded a meeting with the parliament to discuss our concerns, he also said, noting that no one of the syndicate’s council was called to attend the meetings of the law’s discussions.”
The leaders of the parliament did not contact us even after the syndicate had made its remarks weeks ago, and the support is only seen from individual members of the parliament, he also added.
Abdel Hafiz said that Articles 4, 5, and 19 on the top of the remarks of the syndicate, as they have clearly granted the power to block, prevent, and suspend journalists’ licenses without explaining on what bases this should happen.
He further refereed to Article 29, which entails the return of a per-trial detention of journalists, in vague cases of publication, is already canceled by the constitution.
“The law did not provide journalists a right to appeal accusations, did not assert that penalties can be served only charges are really proofed,” the journalist said.
Abel Hafiz wished that the syndicate could really meet with the parliament, as soon as possible, and explained that the general assembly of the syndicate has no plan for what type of escalation that can be taken, in case the parliament did not meet them or consider their remarks.
“In all cases, the council will meet next week to discuss the updates,” he concluded.
New media, press law is good, transparent: Samia Zain El-Abdeen
The law is good, and I cannot understand the reasons of all the controversy made over it, however, the parliament will look next week into the remarks made by some entities, said Samia Zain El-Abdeen, deputy head of military section in state-run Al Mesaa newspaper told Daily News Egypt.
The law was long discussed by media experts and over 1000 journalists, and have granted new rights for journalist that were highly demanded, such as easily receive information from any entity, Zein El-Abdeen added.
Regarding the syndicate’s remarks, Zain El-Abdeen, who attended the parliamentary discussions, said it is not major and will be taken into consideration, however, she really believes that the law is fair, valid, and granting rights to journalist for the very first time in history.
For Article 29, one of the most controversial, she said that the article cancelled the imprisonment of journalists related to publishing, and specified certain cases that could imprison a journalist, and they are valid, “because simply when I defame anyone I should really be punished.”
For the critics of lack of explanation of definition of threating the national security in law, she said that it is not acceptable to write information against safety and security of the armed forces or police, “I think this would be a real betrayal,” adding, “I support anything that maintains the national security. The law grants freedom of press and security to journalists, while respecting the state’s security,” she said.
“Laws are not a holy Quran, and what always continues is the profession,” she concluded.
Some articles found to be vague in new law: Yasser Abdel Aziz
Media expert and columnist, Yasser Abdel Aziz told DNE the issuance of the new law includes positives, but also contains negative aspects, some of which were referred to by prominent bodies, such as the Press Syndicate and civil society organizations, as proposed by others.
Abdel Aziz have made several remarks over the law, which he believes that they should be amended before its issuance, for three main reasons, firstly to remain consistent with the constitution on the one hand, secondly to reflect the will of the Egyptian state in its attempts in striking a balance between the requirements of countering security threats and terrorism, and thirdly benefits freedom of opinion and expression and, maintain principles of human rights.
For most disputed Articles 4 and 5, the experts said that the bans included in these articles are “unreasonable,” because no can be criminalised for violating code of conducts, which are voluntary commitments, decided by the professional groups themselves, without legal punishments, and shifting the code of conducts into law would lose its value.
He continued that in Article 5 the law have used “mysterious and elastic,” wording such as mentioning accusation of “anti-democratic activity or allow such act,” questioning how anyone can anyone understand what these phrases really mean, as it can give many interpretations and thus will give the Supreme Media Council powers to stop certain media from working, in accordance to unclear articles.
“The violation mentioned in the article very difficult to understand precisely,” he said, adding that vague phrases were also mentioned in other articles that stipulated punishments for threating the national security, without creating a precise and agreed upon definition for “defence requirements for the homeland,” which opens the door to violations of freedom of access to information, because of the inability to interpret this phrase.
He concluded that, however, the parliament is going to discuss the amendments, but still that the issuance of the law with its current articles violates freedom of expression and could be appealed in front of constitutional court.
New rights granted for journalist for first time in history: Hamad El-Ramahy
The new media and press law are granting new rights for journalists that was never available in previous laws, and this a positive step, said Hamad El-Ramahy, coordinator of the Front for the Defence of Journalists.
Ban of per-trial detention, granting constitutional rights for journalists to easily receive information from state apparatus or government, which is something added newly for the law, the journalist said, adding law also have included articles maintaining rights of trainee journalist, through determining a specific duration for training and requiring media and press institutions to hire them later, following completing their internship.
For the first time in recent years, the law recognised the presence of online press and media outlets, where dozens of journalists are working, he also added
“These are all new grants the law has given to journalist for first time in history,” El-Ramahy said, praising the law.
Regarding the Press Syndicate’s remarks over the law, he said that there are unconstitutional defects in several articles of the law that do not match with the law of the syndicate, therefore there is a status of dissatisfaction, setting an example that there is an article giving the authority to the Supreme Media Council to suspend an editor-in-chief, which is a duty related to the work of the Press Syndicate.
When asked about which law missed to grant journalists their rights, he said, “I also think that the law did not provide any articles to punish whoever defames or harasses a journalist, during performing their work.”