Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Talking shop

Laws regulating the media were high on the agenda of this week’s meeting between journalists and House of Representatives speaker Ali Abdel-Aal. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Aal received a delegation from the Press Syndicate and national and private newspapers on Monday to discuss issues ranging from a new press law and assaults against reporters to the performance of parliament two months after its inauguration.
The meeting is the second since Abdel-Aal was elected speaker on 10 January. According to Press Syndicate chairman Yehia Qallash, “Abdel-Aal said he is keen to hold regular meetings with journalists to discuss their problems and to review any new media laws.”

“We stressed that the draft law prepared by the Press Syndicate and other media experts reflect the wishes of a majority of journalists. We also used the meeting with Abdel-Aal to raise our concern that the government might seek to present an alternative draft to parliament.”

Qallash said Abdel-Aal told the delegation that parliament had not received any draft legislation on the media from the government and that no new legislation will be discussed without first consulting with the syndicate.

Abdel-Aal insisted that he fully supports greater press freedom. “When I was a professor of law at Ain Shams University I always stressed that press freedoms are a major component of democracy,” said Abdel-Aal.

Qallash told parliamentary reporters on Monday that he informed Abdel-Aal that the Press Syndicate had prepared a 230-article  unified law regulating the press and the media and a related four-article law amending articles related to publication crimes in the penal code.

“I was encouraged that Abdel-Aal told us during the meeting that he is personally against custodial sentences for publication crimes.” On the same day, Monday, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told reporters that the drafts of three new press and media laws had already been finalised.

Al-Agati, who was appointed as interim justice minister after this week’s sacking of Ahmed Al-Zind, said “the drafts will be submitted to parliament very soon by the Justice Ministry”.

“We hope they will meet with the approval of the Press Syndicate and meet the needs of Egypt’s national security.”

Abdel-Aal vowed that “parliament’s legislative agenda will give top priority to issuing new media and press laws once we receive them from the government.”
Essam Kamel, editor-in-chief of Veto newspaper, who attended the meeting with  Abdel-Aal, said the press delegation had pressed the speaker to allow the live broadcast of parliamentary sessions to be resumed.

Yasser Rizk, chairman of the board of Al-Akhbar, said “we told Abdel-Aal that people have a right to follow parliamentary sessions live on air and judge by themselves whether parliament is doing well.

Abdel-Aal told the delegation that a hostile media campaign had being directed at him and against other MPs over the last two months.

“Parliament has faced a media campaign that is trying to portray the House of Representatives as ineffective,” Abdel-Aal was quoted as saying.
   “The media does not seem to understand that parliament has faced an enormous workload since it held its first session on 10 January.
   “We have reviewed 341 laws and decrees passed since the new constitution came into force and we have drafted 438-articles of internal bylaws. These are major achievements. The legislative and supervisory roles of parliament can only begin after its internal bylaws are enacted into law.”
   Abdel-Aal also argued that as speaker he is faced with “the difficult task of imposing discipline” on 596 MPs.
   “My job is made more difficult when each MP acts like a political party. Sometimes I find myself dealing with 594 political parties,” he complained.  What is more,
70 per cent of members of the House of Representatives are first-time MPs with no experience of parliamentary or constitutional affairs.
   On Monday Al-Ahram published a list of 109 MPs facing appeals challenging their membership of the house.  The petitions, filed before the Court of Cassation in accordance with Article 107 of the constitution, allege violations and irregularities during the voting process. If they are upheld, affected MPs may have to face re-election.

The names of several high-profile MPs are included on the list. They include Abdel-Aal, the head of the Support Egypt parliamentary bloc Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, businessman Ahmed Al-Sallab, Moataz Al-Shazli, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat and Ahmed Mansour.

The appeal against Mansour, who is the son of high-profile lawyer, chairman of Zamalek Sporting Club and independent MP Mortada Mansour, was filed by Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Al-Shobaki. Al-Shobaki’s petition alleges “judges supervising the polls made a lot of mistakes in counting the votes”. He is asking for the votes in 100 polling stations to be re-counted. 

Abdel-Aal complained to visiting journalists about the way the House’s decision to strip independent MP and high-profile TV anchor Tawfik Okasha of parliamentary membership after he met with the Israeli ambassador had been covered.

“We actually recommended that he be banned from attending the remaining sessions of the first legislative season. Then two thirds of MPs insisted that Okasha’s membership be cancelled completely,” said Abdel-Aal.

Abdel-Aal stressed that Okasha did not lose his seat because he met with the ambassador of a foreign country.

“MPs are allowed to meet with foreign ambassadors in Egypt but only after seeking parliament’s approval and on condition that they do not discuss sovereign national security issues,” said Abdel-Aal. “But when Okasha was questioned by a special parliamentary committee it emerged he had discussed highly sensitive issues, including the construction of Ethiopia’s Nile Renaissance Dam.”

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