Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Press future in question

The board chairmen and editors of the state-owned newspapers are in a legal limbo, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the terms of the board chairmen and some editors-in-chief of the state-run newspapers end in January, their future is still uncertain because of the absence of the entity ordinarily responsible for either extending their terms or appointing successors.

A presidential decree issued by former interim president Adli Mansour in August 2013 lent the Supreme Press Council the legal right to appoint the chairmen and chief editors of the state-owned newspapers. However, the decree also ended this right on the election of a new parliament.

“It is a legal limbo,” Ibrahim Abu Keila, a member of the Press Syndicate Council, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “If the Supreme Press Council changes the chairmen of the state-owned newspapers, there will be a void. And if it doesn’t, their tenure will be equally uncertain,” Abu Keila said.

“The situation is confusing, and I don’t know how it will be solved,” he added.

In order to resolve the dilemma, the Press Syndicate has been calling upon President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who held legislative powers before the election of the new parliament, to issue the long-awaited press and media law formulated by the governmental advisory committee for press and media legislation.

The committee, chaired by former Syndicate chairman Diaa Rashwan, includes 45 members from different fields, including the press, broadcasting and the printing business.

Chairman of the Press Syndicate Yehia Qallash stressed in a previous interview the importance of issuing the draft law before the end of December. “The press and media community agreed on the necessity of the speedy issuing of the unified press and media law in order to avoid the legal dilemma the state institutions will face in January in the absence of the law,” Qallash said.

The draft law includes seven sections organising press freedoms and the media in Egypt. It is supposed to legalise the new National Council of the Press to replace the Supreme Press Council under the new constitution.

The new law specifies new criteria for the selection of board chairmen and editors-in-chief of the state-owned institutions whose terms end in January. It also suggests that the boards of the press institutions should be mostly comprised of elected members rather than appointed ones.

“It doesn’t seem that the unified press and media law will be approved before the meeting of the new parliament,” Salah Eissa, secretary-general of the Supreme Press Council, told the Weekly, however.

Media outlets have speculated that the parliament will hold its first session in the first ten days of January, and the government is supposed to present the new law to the parliament.

Mansour earlier made two amendments to law 96/1996 that regulates the press. The first was in August 2013 when he issued a decree reforming the interim Supreme Press Council, and the second was in December of the same year when he replaced the text of the last paragraph of article 68 of the same law in decree 76/2013.

This says that “the Supreme Press Council shall exercise its functions during the current transitional period until the adoption of a permanent constitution for the country, the election of the House of Representatives, and the issuance of the necessary legislation organising press affairs. The council shall hold authority during this period and may end the term of the chairmen of the national press institutions as well as the editors of newspapers and appoint replacements for a period not exceeding two years.”

The Supreme Press Council appointed Ahmed Sayed Al-Naggar as Board Chairman of Al-Ahram, Mohamed Abdel-Hadi as chief editor of Al-Ahram, Yasser Rizk as chairman and chief editor of Akhbar Al-Youm, Alaa Heidar as chairman of the state news agency MENA, and Abdel-Sadek Shorbagi as chairman of Rosal Youssef in January 2014. All were appointed for two-year terms that end in January 2016.

“According to the law, the Supreme Press Council has depleted its one-time power of appointing the chairmen of the state-run newspapers,” Eissa said. Other observers believe that the Supreme Press Council became void following the approval of the new constitution and after the election of the new parliament.

Nonetheless, Rashwan believes that the council still exists by law. “The law linked the legal existence of the Supreme Press Council to three conditions. Only two of them have been met, while the third [the issuing of the necessary legislation] is still missing. Thus, the Supreme Press Council still has the right to exercise its role,” Rashwan told the Weekly.

“As for the one-time authority of changing the chairmen and chief-editors of the state-run newspapers, the law didn’t make it clear whether it meant appointing new ones or ending terms or both. There is confusion in the text, letting people interpret it differently,” Rashwan said.

Meanwhile, the Association of Elected Board and General Assembly Members of the National Press Institutions have appealed to the political leadership, the cabinet, the new parliament and the Press Syndicate to take all the necessary legal procedures to deal with the crisis in a manner that respects the provisions of the constitution and the law.

The association issued a statement on 23 December warning of “the seriousness of the repercussions if the Supreme Press Council is involved in any prospective decisions to extend the terms of the board chairmen under the pretext of waiting for the parliament to issue the press legislation. This is because the presidential decree of 2013 explicitly states that the Supreme Press Council can reappoint press institution heads once only and then has no further right to intervene.”  

Eissa said it would be impossible to run state press institutions, which jointly have at least 30,000 journalists and administrative employees, without chairmen. “The Supreme Press Council is scheduled to hold meetings during the week to reach a solution to this dilemma,” he said.

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