Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Press law takes a back seat

Parliament will decide next week whether a controversial amendment to the press law will be discussed or not, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

The House of Representatives has not yet decided whether a legislative amendment granting President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi the right to appoint the Higher Press Council will be discussed at a plenary session next week.

The amendment, approved by parliament’s Media Committee two months ago, has never been debated by MPs. Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs on 20 July that the amendment will be discussed only after laws regulating the civil service and pensions have been finalised and voted on.

MP Mustafa Bakri, who proposed the amendment, told reporters on Sunday that he and other MPs will exert pressure on Speaker Abdel-Aal to open the amendment for discussion next week.

“Speaker Abdel-Aal has delayed discussion of the amendment twice already despite the fact it addresses a pressing need,” said Bakri.

On 20 July Abdel-Aal told MPs that Bakri’s amendment complied with all legal and constitutional requirements and it was up to MPs to decide whether to pass it or not. He refused, however, to set a date for the amendment to be discussed.

Bakri’s proposed changes to article 86 of the Press Law (Law 96/1996) would allow the president to appoint an interim Higher Press Council until a new law on the regulation of the press is passed by parliament.

Sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that if Bakri’s amendment was not discussed next week it would not be discussed at all.  Osama Sharshar, an independent MP and journalist, told the Weekly Abdel-Aal’s ambivalent position on Bakri’s amendment signals that the government, and by extension Al-Sisi, do not support it.

“A unified law regulating the press and media is about to be finalised by the State Council. Once finalised it will be prioritised for debate,” says Sharshar. “If the new unified law is referred to parliament next week then Bakri’s amendment will be redundant.”

The State Council has been revising the unified law since 9 July.

Bakri, says Sharshar, appears not to realise that Abdel-Aal’s reluctance to open a debate on his amendment means that “President Al-Sisi and the government do not have the political will to meddle in the internal affairs of journalists because they know this would be an undemocratic measure”.

Bakri told reporters on Sunday he will insist the amendment is discussed next week given “the State Council has still long way to go before it finishes revising the unified law”. 

According to Bakri, “even when this law comes to parliament it will take time to finalise since it consists of more than 200 articles”.

Bakri’s amendment gives the 15-member Higher Press Council the same powers over media organisations that were accorded the now defunct Shura Council, including the prerogative to name the editors and board chairmen of state-owned press houses.

Parliament’s Media Committee has argued the new amendment is a necessary measure given the legal term of the current Higher Press Council, in charge of naming editors and board chairmen of national press organisations since July 2013, has now expired.

“The now illegal council has allowed board chairmen of some national press organisations to remain in office though their terms expired in January, and editors-in-chief to remain in post though their legal terms expired  in June,” reported the committee.

The committee’s report noted that until a new law aimed at regulating the press is passed by parliament Bakri’s amendment should be considered because it “meets a pressing need”.

“It will end the current legal and constitutional gridlock by granting the president the authority to reshuffle the current Higher Press Council or appoint a new one. The amendment will also help settle legal disputes that might  arise after the legal term of board chairmen and chief editors in national press organisations expire.”

Sharshar told the Weekly Bakri’s claim that the current Higher Press Council is now illegal is easily challenged. “The constitution is clear that the Higher Press Council can stay on until a unified law on the press and the media is passed,” he said.

In a meeting on 16 June the current Higher Press Council argued that Bakri’s amendment violates article 224 of the constitution. Article 224 states that any amendment of laws passed before the promulgation of the constitution on 18 January 2014 must comply with the provisions of the new charter.

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