Saturday,24 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)
Saturday,24 February, 2018
Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Press law not so pressing

A unified law aimed at regulating state-owned press organisations may be ready to be discussed by MPs in October, reports Gamal Essam El-Din 

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs on Monday that a unified law regulating state-run press organisations will be presented for discussion “as soon as it is revised by the State Council in legislative and constitutional terms”.

Article 212 of the 2014 constitution prioritises legislation regulating state-owned press organisations and stipulates that MPs must pass a law that encompasses an independent national press authority to take charge of running publically owned press houses.

Abdel-Aal stressed that MPs were keen to debate the relevant new legislation “but this can only happen after the unified law is revised by the State Council”.

The unified press law has been with the State Council since 9 July. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati says the law, jointly drafted by the government and the Press Syndicate, comprises 227 articles.  To comply with the constitution the new legislation abolishes custodial sentences for publication offences.

“The draft law fully complies with articles 70, 71 and 72 of the constitution which prohibits censorship of newspapers and other media outlets, bans custodial sentences for publication offences, and guarantees state-owned press organisations are independent and neutral,” said Al-Agati.

Al-Agati revealed the State Council is unlikely to complete its revision of the draft law before October.

Abdel-Aal promised MPs that if the unified press law is not ready to be discussed by parliament in October he will give priority to amendments already proposed to the existing press law. Abdel-Aal’s statement came in response to a question by MP Mustafa Bakri.

Bakri argued that since the Unified Press will take another two months to be revised by the State Council an earlier amendment that he has proposed to the existing press law must take priority.

Abdel-Aal, however, said that after consultation with the government it has been decided MPs should wait for the revision of the draft legislation now before the State Council. “I cannot give a definite date on when amendments will be discussed. All I can say is the discussion will come at the appropriate time,” said Abdel-Aal.

The amendment, which Bakri proposed two months ago and was approved by parliament’s Media Committee on 14 June, changes article 86 of the current Press Law (Law 96/1996) to allow President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to appoint an interim Higher Press Council until a new unified law on the regulation of the press is voted on by parliament.

On Monday Bakri told Abdel-Aal that his amendment met a pressing need.

“The legal term of the incumbent Higher Press Council expired at the end of July and state-run press organisations are racking up financial losses every day,” said Bakri. “Yet in spite of these losses they have spent more than LE1.5 billion in financial bonuses and incentives.”

“The amendment seeks to save public press organisations from making greater financial losses by establishing a Higher Press Council that could then appoint new editors and board chairmen.”

Bakri has suggested his amendment could be rephrased to allow the speaker rather than the president of the republic to appoint the new Higher Press Council. Abdel-Aal rejected the compromise. “We have to postpone this amendment until a revision of the unified press law is finalised by the State Council,” he repeated.

MP and journalist Osama Sharshar told Al-Ahram Weekly that Abdel-Aal’s response clearly signals the government, and by extension President Al-Sisi, oppose Bakri’s amendment.

Bakri, says Sharshar, appears not to realise that Abdel-Aal’s refusal 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 journalists he was surprised by Abdel-Aal’s decision to delay the discussion of his amendment to the press law. “It has already been delayed four times for no discernible reasons,” said Bakri.

He remains hopeful his proposed legislative changes will be discussed next week. “There is an urgent need to reform national press organisations and it is not practical to wait five months until the unified press law is revised and discussed by parliament,” said Bakri.

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