The newly-formed National Press Organisation (NPO) has started getting down to business, Gamal Essam El-Din reports. Chairman Karam Gabr said the first job of the NPO, which replaces the Higher Press Council, will be to discuss a new press law.
“Since the legislation regulating three new media bodies was ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 10 April and their board members named on the following day, the NPO’s agenda has moved towards discussions of a new general law on media and press conditions,” said Gabr.
Osama Heikal, head of parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, told reporters that “members of the three new regulatory bodies will be invited next week to discuss the new general press law.”
Members of the new media regulatory bodies took an unusual step of swearing an oath before parliament on 11 April. Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs the swearing-in was in compliance with Law 92/2016 which requires members of the three media regulatory bodies to take an oath before parliament ahead of exercising their duties.
“This swearing-in before parliament was the first of its kind in 100 years. It is very significant because it conveys a message that the new three bodies — the Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR), the NPO and the National Media Organisation (NMO) were created to achieve one objective, to serve the nation and its people’s interests,” said Abdel-Aal.
“The NPO must take charge of reforming national press organisations so they become professional and profitable.”
Makram Mohamed Ahmed, a former head of the Press Syndicate who was named chairman of the HCMR, told MPs that “the three new regulatory bodies will do their best to reform press and media conditions in Egypt.”
“We will do this job in collaboration with the Press Syndicate and national press organisations,” said Ahmed. “Those people who claim the new bodies have been created to stifle media freedoms are wrong. We want greater press and media freedom, and we want to ensure those who exercise these freedoms act responsibly and credibly.”
Gabr told MPs “the media can be like a fire that burns everything or like a fire that brings warmth.”
“ I want to see Egypt recover its pioneering role as the Arab world’s leader in terms of media freedom and professionalism,” added Gabr.
One of the NPO’s tasks is to oversee the selection of new board chairmen of state-owned papers and editors of their affiliated publications. According to Gabr, the selection will be based on professional competence rather than loyalty to the regime.
Diaa Rashwan, a former head of the Press Syndicate and chairman of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), said “national press organisations are in desperate need of financial support if they are to recover their leading role in Egypt and the Arab world.”
“It is not enough to form new regulatory bodies if this isn’t followed by the provision of the financial support press organisations need to succeed in a very competitive market.”
Rashwan insisted “the fact that national press organisations are supported by the government should not mean they become government mouthpieces.”
“Just as they need to become more professional and profitable, they must also remain independent from the state and reflect all points of view.”
Each of the three regulatory bodies comprises 13 members selected by the president, parliament, the Press Syndicate, the Higher Council for Universities, State Council and the Ministry of Finance.
On 11 April Al-Sisi named Makram Mohamed Ahmed as head of the HCMR, Karam Gabr as head of the NPO and Hussein Zein as head of the NMO.
Membership of the NPO is dominated by journalists from state-owned press organisations. Chaired by Gabr, a Mubarak era editor-in-chief of Rose Al-Youssef and former member of the now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), it includes Mohamed Abdel-Hadi, chief editor of Al-Ahram; Rashwan; Alaa Thabet, chief editor of Al-Ahram Al-Masaai; Abdel-Qader Shohaib, former chairman of Al-Hilal Press Organisation; Mohamed Al-Hawari, a journalist from Akhbar Al-Youm and Abdallah Hassan, a journalist with the Middle East News Agency (MENA).
The NPO has only one independent journalist, Charles Fouad Al-Masry, chairman of the board of Sawt Al-Umma.
The NPO also includes Adel Boreik, a judge from the State Council, Finance Ministry official Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, and Magdi Al-Badri, an official representing workers in national press institutions.
Journalists from the state-owned press are also in the majority on the other two regulatory bodies. The HCMR, responsible for regulating all media outlets in Egypt, whether audio-visual, digital or print, state-owned or independent, is headed by veteran journalist Makram Mohamed Ahmed. The HCMR takes charge of licensing media outlets and will draw up a code of media ethics that respect public morals and national security concerns by which all media organisations must abide.
Members of the HCMR include Abdel-Fattah Al-Gibali, a former board chairman of Al-Ahram, Hatem Zakaria, a journalist with Akhbar Al-Youm and member of the Press Syndicate board, Gamal Shawki, a journalist with Al-Wafd, Lotfi Abdel-Baki, a judge with the State Council, Mona Al-Garf, head of the Competition Protection and Anti-Trust Practices Authority, and Mustafa Abdel-Wahed, an official with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.