Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

MPs to debate press law changes

Egypt’s parliament will discuss a controversial amendment to the press law, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A legislative amendment that grants Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi the right to reshuffle the Higher Press Council will soon be discussed at a plenary session of parliament.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs Monday that the discussion of the amendment will begin only after the debate on the state’s new 2016-2017 budget has been finalised. Parliament will take a final vote on the budget after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday which ends on 10 July.

The press law amendment flew through parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee at a meeting held on 14 June. The amendment, proposed by independent MP and journalist Mustafa Bakri and 324 other MPs, would change Article 86 of the Press Law (Law 96/1996) to allow the president of the republic to issue a decree that gives him the power to appoint a Higher Press Council until a new law on the regulation of the press is passed by parliament.

The amendment states that the new 15-member Higher Press Council will have the same powers that were granted to the now defunct Upper House, the Shura Council, and will also name new editors and board chairmen of state-run press organisations.

A report by parliament’s Media Committee argued that the new amendment is an important and necessary measure because the legal term of the current Higher Press Council, which has been in charge of naming editors and board chairmen of national press organisations since July 2013, has expired.

“In spite of this fact, this illegal council gave itself an illegal right to allow board chairmen of some national press organisations to stay in office for an indefinite period although their legal term expired last January,” the report said. It added that the council did the same thing with most editors-in-chief in national press organisations even though their legal term will expire at the end of this month.

The report indicated that before the legal term of national editors-in-chief comes to an end next week and until a new law aimed at regulating the press is passed by parliament, the proposed amendment should be considered a pressing need.

“It will help put an end to the current legal and constitutional gridlock by granting the president the authority to reshuffle the current Higher Press Council and appoint a new one legally,” said the report, adding, “The amendment will also help settle a number of legal disputes that could arise after the legal term of board chairmen and chief editors in national press organisations expires next week.”

Bakri claimed that many journalists intend to challenge the legality of board chairmen and chief editors in the courts if they are allowed to stay in office after next week. “In light of this fact, this amendment comes at the right time to fill a legal gap,” argued Bakri.

Osama Heikal, the chairman of parliament’s Media Committee, also argued that because the current Higher Press Council has the legal right to name new editors and board chairmen of national press organisations, Bakri’s legislative amendment has become a necessity.

“The new media and press regulation laws, which are currently being revised by the State Council, will also take some time in parliament to be discussed and passed, and as a result this legislative amendment is important to help national press organisations perform their job under legal leadership,” Heikal added.

The amendment comes amid objections from the Press Syndicate and the Higher Press Council led by leftist journalist Galal Aref. In a letter to President Al-Sisi early this week, the council said Bakri’s amendment is unconstitutional.

Aref insisted that the legal term of the current Higher Press Council has not yet expired. He argued that the current council was created by a decree issued by the then interim president, Adli Mansour, who became president after Mohamed Morsi was ousted as in a popular uprising in July 2013.

“On 8 July 2013, President Mansour issued a decree (No 166/2013) that a Higher Press Council be formed to supervise press organisations until a new constitution is passed, a new parliament is elected and a new press law is issued,” said Aref.

“It is true that a new constitution was passed and a new parliament was elected but no new press law was issued, and as a result the current council is legally allowed to stay until a new press law is issued.”

Yehia Qalash, head of the Press Syndicate, also attacked Bakri’s amendment, accusing it of violating the constitution. “Instead of this politically motivated amendment, please speed up discussions in parliament on the new press laws as stipulated by the constitution,” said Qalash who is currently on trial, accused of helping two political activists seek shelter in the syndicate’s headquarters and spreading false news about the government.

At a meeting on 16 June, the current nine-member Higher Press Council said Bakri’s amendment violates Article 224 of the constitution, which states that any amendment of laws passed before the promulgation of the national charter on 18 January 2014 should be in line with the charter. “It also stipulates that it is the National Press Commission that should replace the Higher Press Council to supervise national press organisations,” said a council statement.

Some MPs share the council’s view that Bakri’s amendment is politically motivated. Osama Sharshar, an independent MP and a journalist, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the move against the current Higher Press Council comes after most of its leftist members accused the Interior Ministry of storming the headquarters of the Press Syndicate in downtown Cairo on 1 May to arrest two journalists “without legal justification”.

Khaled Youssef, an independent MP and film director, also described the amendment as undemocratic. “This is a Mubarak-style amendment that grants the president exceptional and undemocratic powers,” Youssef said.

 

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