Wednesday,19 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)
Wednesday,19 December, 2018
Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

New media law gets the nod

Parliament has approved a new law which will create three regulatory bodies to oversee all media outlets in Egypt, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s parliament on Tuesday approved a long-awaited law called The Institutional Regulation of the Press and the Media.

The approval came after the law was revised by the State Council and parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

Osama Heikal, head of parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, told MPs in a plenary session Tuesday that the law was also discussed in three sessions by the committee last week.
 
Heikal said the 89-article law, prepared by a special commission composed of both independent and government-affiliated experts in media law, aims to create three regulatory bodies that will oversee all media outlets in Egypt.
 
Heikal indicated that another law on media regulation, drafted by 101 MPs led by independent deputy and high-profile journalist Mustafa Bakri, was also proposed.

“But we will primarily focus on the first law because it is more comprehensive,” said Heikal.

 According to Heikal, “once the legislation on the three media bodies is ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and their board members are named, the committee will begin discussing a second law on media and press conditions”. “The three new regulatory bodies will be invited to have their say on this general media law,” said Heikal.

Since the law was approved by MPs this week, the president will be expected to issue a decree within two weeks on the formation of the boards of the three regulatory bodies. “Each board will comprise 13 members: Three of whom are to be selected by the president (including the boards),” says Article 32.  The three bodies would be the Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR), the National Press Organisation (NPO) and the National Media Organisation (NMO).
 
The NPO, according to articles 27 and 84, will replace the current Higher Press Council, taking charge of supervising state-owned press organisations. The NPO will also be responsible for selecting board chairmen and the editors of their affiliated publications.
 
The NMO will replace the current Radio and Television Union (RTU), and will be mandated with overseeing state-owned audio-visual media, radio and digital media institutions in a manner that guarantees their independence, professionalism and profitability.
 
The NMO will also be tasked with reforming the giant Radio and Television Union and turning it into a profitable business.
 
The HCMR will regulate all media outlets, whether audio-visual, digital or print – whether public or private – in coordination with the NPO and the NMO, according to Article 1.
 
The HCMR will also take charge of licensing media outlets and drawing up a code of media ethics, with a focus on respecting public morals and national security concerns, by which all media organisations – public, private or partisan – must abide.

Heated debates erupted during parliament’s discussion of the law on Tuesday. Some leftist MPs said all laws on the media should be unified into one law. In response, Heikal said under the recommendation of the State Council’s Department of Fatwas and Legislation, a long-awaited unified law on the press and media was divided into two laws. “While the first is what we are discussing now on regulatory bodies, the second seeks to regulate the media in general,” said Heikal, adding that “it is better for parliament to observe the State Council’s recommendation in order to guarantee that the law does not contravene the constitution”.

Leftist MP Haitham Al-Hariri said “the recommendations issued by the State Council are just advisory rather than binding. Remember that the State Council did not previously recommend that the election laws were constitutional, only to find out later that these laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court”. Al-Hariri said he and many other MPs have fears that the new law on media regulatory bodies might also be ruled unconstitutional.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal indicated that the law was thoroughly revised by the State Council. “I see that the division of the unified media and press law into two laws truly reflects a logical point of view,” said Abdel-Aal, “not to mention that articles 211, 212 and 213 of the constitution stipulate that regulatory bodies be formed ahead of releasing a law on the media in general.

“These three articles also stipulate that the three regulatory bodies should have a say on the general law on the press and the media before it is enacted into official legislation,” said Abdel-Aal.

Alaa Abed, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, said the release of new media laws in Egypt had become a pressing need. “The new law should come to impose some control over the Egyptian media to ensure that it takes a national line,” said Abed, accusing private television channels of  “covering national issues in an unprofessional way, with some of them having gone to the extent of inciting violence against the state. While the military and police sacrifice their lives defending the country against terrorism, we see that some media people are doing their best to tarnish the image of the state.”

Abdel-Aal responded by indicating that the constitution is clear that press and media freedoms are guaranteed. “I know that some media outlets do a bad job, but I insist the media in general in Egypt does a good job and defends the supreme interests of the country,” Abdel-Aal said.

Abdel-Aal stressed that the law on media regulatory bodies does not aim to infringe upon press and media freedoms. “It just aims to regulate the media in a professional way as is the case in several countries,” said Abdel-Aal, adding that “in doing so, the law makes sure that its articles are in line with the constitution and respects press and media freedoms.”

MP Bakri launched scathing attack against the Higher Press Council and the Press Syndicate, accusing members of their boards of doing their best to delay the release of new media laws.

“They want to stay in their positions without any legal grounds,” said Bakri.

Bakri’s harsh criticism came in response to a decision by the Higher Press Council and the Press Syndicate to boycott preliminary meetings on the media regulatory bodies law in parliament’s media committee.

Salah Eissa, spokesman for the Higher Press Council, insisted in a statement that the unified press and media law was divided into two laws, not upon the recommendation of the State Council. “It was divided upon the orders of the government and some MPs who want to control the new regulatory bodies,” said Eissa.

 Heikal said invitations were directed to all board members of the Higher Press Council and the Press Syndicate. “But I was surprised by their decision not to come,” said Heikal. “I was also surprised that the council’s spokesman and high-profile journalist Salah Eissa issued a statement announcing he will not attend sessions on the new media laws, claiming they were not revised by the State Council.”

 Heikal insisted that the law was put to a debate “only after the State Council had completely finalised revising them”.
 
Heikal also stressed that the law does not include any articles that impose prison sentences. “All prison sentences in this law were replaced by financial fines ranging from LE100,000 to LE150,000,” Heikal said.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told MPs Tuesday that “it was originally proposed that a unified law on the media and its three affiliated regulatory bodies be drafted, but the State Council recommended that the legislation be divided into two separate laws: one on the unified media law and the other on regulatory bodies.”

Al-Agati indicated that members of the three media regulatory bodies – the Higher Council for Media Regulation, the National Press Organisation and the National Media Organisation – will be named ahead of the passing of the unified media law. “The boards of these laws should be formed to give their say on the general media law, as stipulated by the constitution,” said Al-Agati.

In their debates, MPs decided to amend Article 5 to allow the three media regulatory bodies to take charge of reviewing the financial conditions of press and media organisations and that these come from real sources of funding.

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