Thursday,24 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Thursday,24 May, 2018
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Pressing media problems

A new law regulating the media will soon be ready for MPs to debate

Pressing media problems
Pressing media problems

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal has instructed the Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee to finalise its review of a government-drafted law regulating the media as soon as possible, writes Gamal Essam El-Din.

In response, head of the committee Osama Heikal said the report will be ready to be presented to MPs for discussion by the end of this week.

Abdel-Aal also warned MPs against giving interviews to satellite channels affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.  

“Some MPs have given phone interviews to satellite channels without realising the channels are hostile to the state and will exploit what is said to convey a false image of Egypt in regional and international circles,” said Abdel-Aal. “The media urgently needs to stem such bad practice.”

Sohag MP Ahmed Haridi told parliament on Sunday he had been tricked by the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Mekkamelin channel, which broadcasts from Turkey, into being interviewed on rice cultivation and water saving measures in Egypt.

“I was contacted by someone claiming to be a reporter with the Sky News Arabia channel who wanted to conduct a telephone interview with me,” said Haridi.

“I was flabbergasted to then find the interview broadcast on Mekkamelin.”

Abdel-Aal told MPs new legislation regulating the media was necessary “to contain chaos, particularly when it comes to the activities of television channels”.

Heikal told reporters the final reading of the government-drafted law will take place this week.

“We have already held 35 meetings to discuss the draft and changes have been proposed to 101 of its 127 articles,” said Heikal.

The articles have been modified in coordination with the Higher Council for Media Regulation, the National Press Organisation (NPO), the National Media Organisation, the press and media workers’ syndicates, the Chamber of Media Industries and the National Council for Telecommunication Regulation.

“The law was referred to parliament in June 2016,” said Heikal, “and has been reviewed in depth.”

The 127-article law regulates the ownership of media institutions, the operation of state-owned press organisations, penalties for publication offences, the licensing of foreign news agencies and the activities of satellite channels.

It also covers online news websites.

“The Internet represents the future of the media in Egypt as it does in the rest of the world,” said Heikal, which is why “regulating online media activity was the subject of careful discussion in which online operators and representatives of media organisations took part”.

The draft law includes a chapter covering the online media activities of publishing houses, news agencies, press organisations, satellite audio-visual channels and advertising and other commercial businesses.

One controversial article limits the number of satellite channels that can be owned by a company to seven.

“A lot of MPs and media companies opposed the limit on the grounds that it runs counter to the goal of boosting the role of the private sector in the national economy,” said committee member Tamer Abdel-Kader.

There were also disagreements on whether the retirement age of journalists in state-owned media organisations should be extended to 65, and over the article stipulating that the chairman of the NPO should head the General Assembly of NPOs. The controversial article says the assembly must comprise all NPO board members, six experts on economic and financial affairs and six representatives elected by media workers. Abdel-Kader says some MPs pressed for “half the members of the general assembly to be elected”.

An article addressing custodial sentences for publication offences also provoked a great deal of discussion, said Heikal. “We believe custodial penalties for publication offences must be eliminated altogether so as not to violate the 2014 constitution,” he said.

Though the constitution bans prison sentences for publication offences some MPs argued “custodial sentences are important to discipline the media,” said Abdel-Kader. A majority of committee members, however, agreed custodial sentences should be replaced with financial penalties.

The new law on the regulation of the press and media represents a departure from the law on the Institutional Regulation of the Media and Press passed in December 2016, says Abdel-Kader.

“Though initially conceived as a single piece of legislation, the laws were separated in order to conform to the 2014 constitution which stipulates that an independent law be issued creating three regulatory bodies to cover the media and the press.”

According to Abdel-Kader, “the new media and press regulation law focuses on the internal conditions of state-owned press organisations, issues like retirement age and promotion criteria, and the licensing of foreign news agencies and satellite channels.”

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