Saturday,24 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Saturday,24 June, 2017
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Reforming the press

Parliament’s Media Committee has begun discussing amendments to the draft press and media law, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Reforming the press
Reforming the press

Osama Heikal, head of parliament’s Culture, Media and Antiquities Committee, says discussions of a long-awaited new press and media law have started.

“Our first meeting was devoted to reviewing proposed amendments to the draft law. We intend to take enough time to thoroughly study all suggested changes to the draft,” said Heikal.

Heikal said there was a consensus among MPs that they should coordinate with the Press Syndicate and the newly formed National Press Organisation (NPO) in an attempt to ensure the new law, when ratified, does away with custodial sentences for publication offences.

In a press conference on 8 May Heikal said the committee opposed jailing journalists “on the grounds that this violates Egypt’s 2014 constitution”.

“We are very keen the new general press law conforms to the constitution which states in Article 71 that journalists convicted of publication offences cannot be imprisoned,” said Heikal.

The committee met on Monday to review changes proposed by the NPO to the 127-article draft law.

Makram Mohamed Ahmed, head of the newly-formed Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR) said the law was prepared by media experts from both the government and the Press Syndicate. He agreed with Heikal that the law should not impose prison sentences on journalists in violation of the constitution.

“The draft law also states that state-owned press organisations must act as independent institutions rather than government media mouthpieces, in line with Article 72 of the constitution which states that the job of the state-owned press is to reflect the full range of national views,” said Ahmed.

He revealed that the NPO has proposed a new section dealing with the disciplining of journalists be added to the draft. “The addition will entrust the disciplining of journalists and media workers guilty of publication offences or the violating of codes of ethics to the Press Syndicate or the Syndicate of Media Workers.”

Ahmed also revealed that the heads of three newly created media bodies — the HCMR, the NPO and the National Media Organisation, had agreed they should be consulted in their official capacity ahead of the selection of new board chairmen or new editors-in-chief of national press organisations and the Radio and Television Union.

“What this means is the head of any one of the three media bodies will be unable to take a unilateral decision selecting new board chairmen or chief editors,” said Ahmed. “We need to coordinate with each other if we are going to succeed in our goal of reforming the Egyptian press.”

Ahmed said the NPO had proposed Article 46 of the new press and media law be changed. “The NPO’s proposed amendment states that each newspaper or magazine should have an editorial board which should be headed by an editor-in-chief and seven deputy editors as members.”

The NPO has also proposed Article 76 be amended to allow journalists to retire at 65 rather than 60. “The NPO’s proposals will apply to journalists who have been members of the Press Syndicate for at least 20 years, have not faced disciplinary measures during the last three years or taken long stretches of unpaid holidays,” said Ahmed. “In addition, those who stay until 65 will not be allowed to hold senior positions such as board chair or editor-in-chief.”

The NPO also wants Article 77 to be changed to expand the general assembly of national press organisations to 15 members — five journalists, five managers and five workers — rather than the 12 stipulated in the government draft.

It would also like to see the boards of national press organisations expanded to 13 rather than 11 members.

On the criteria to select editors-in-chief of daily newspapers Ahmed said the NPO was suggesting candidates have a minimum of 15 years’ experience of reporting and editing during which time they did not take extended unpaid leave. Editors-in-chief of weekly, monthly or quarterly newspapers and magazines will be required to have a minimum of eight years of experience.

The amendments, if accepted, will give the NPO the right to liquidate the activities of loss-making press organisations and transfer loss-making print publications to electronic platforms.

Ahmed said he is optimistic the heads of the three media regulatory bodies will be able to reach a consensus on reform of press organisations.

Heikal said the Media Committee was determined not to rush its work but to take the time necessary to listen to all points of view.

“We want consensus on this new law and will take as much as needed.”

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