Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1401, (12 - 18 July 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1401, (12 - 18 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Press law under fire

New laws regulating the press and media have faced a wave of attacks, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

The Press Syndicate
The Press Syndicate

Three controversial laws regulating the press and media are due to receive a second reading in parliament next week following constitutional and legal revisions by the State Council. The laws received provisional parliamentary approval on 11 June.

“The State Council has finalised its revision of the laws on the National Press Authority (NPA) the National Media Authority (NMA), and the Law Regulating the Press and Media which means there are no obstacles in the way of a final debate when parliament reconvenes next Sunday,” Osama Heikal, head of parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, told reporters on Sunday.

In a report sent to parliament on 5 July, the State Council said at least nine articles of the draft legislation needed to be amended in order to comply with the constitution.

“Some articles represent a direct assault on press freedom by stipulating journalists must secure prior approval before covering certain conferences or conducting interviews in public places,” warned the State Council’s report. It added that “this represents an attack on freedoms enshrined in Article 71 of the 2014 constitution.”

The report also noted the proposed legislation strips journalists and media workers of the right to appeal Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR) decisions before administrative courts despite such appeals being “a judicial and constitutional right that should be honoured, not ignored”.

The legislation has also been criticised by the Press Syndicate where at least six members of the board threatened to resign should the three laws pass in their present form.

Syndicate council member Gamal Abdel-Rehim said the Press and Media Regulation Law would pave the way to privatising national press organisations. He is particularly worried about Article 35 of the law regulating the National Press Authority which states that the general assembly of national press organisations must comprise 17 members, six drawn from the organisation in question, and 11 public figures with expertise in financial and administrative affairs.

“This article marginalises the role of journalists in the running of press organisations and gives a majority of general assembly votes to financial experts,” says Abdel-Rehim.

MP and journalist Mustafa Bakri also warns “advocates of privatisation are being given the upper hand in general assemblies.”

“Journalists working for national newspapers will have no say in the running or the future of their publications,” he said.

Abdel-Rehim says the Press Syndicate also opposes the NPA being given a final say in supervising national press organisations and is unhappy that when the initial drafts were first presented to parliament MPs refused to allow the retirement age of journalists to be increased from 60 to 65.

“The Press Syndicate believes an extension is necessary to capitalise on the professional experience of older journalists,” said Abdel-Rehim.

Abdel-Rehim’s concerns extend to Article 29 of the law regulating the press and media which he says allows “journalists accused of inciting hatred or promoting discrimination between citizens to be held in custody pending trial in violation of the constitution”.

Heikal insists Article 29 of the Press and Media Regulation Law fully complies with the constitution.

“This article is very clear. Journalists cannot be placed in custody for publication offences, and in incitement cases it is up to the law to determine due process,” said Heikal.

“The Media and Culture Committee is keen to support whatever amendments are necessary to ensure the laws do not face accusations that they contravene the constitution.”

The State Council’s report, added Heikal, is currently being reviewed by parliament’s secretariat-general to “ensure any articles suspected of violating the constitution are eliminated”.

Karam Gabr, head of the NPA, defended the Press and Media Regulation Law as “a big win for journalists”.

“The law aims to upgrade the performance of national press organisations in financial and administrative terms and eliminates custodial penalties for publication offences,” he said.

In addition, Gabr stressed that the law does allow for an extension of the retirement age of journalists in some circumstances.

“Journalists can retire at 65 and beyond if the NPA and boards of national press organisations jointly decide this is appropriate and to the benefit of the publications at which they work.”

Gabr also denies the laws give the NPA a final say over the affairs of national press organisations.

“NPA officials will meet once a year with the boards of national press organisations to discuss their budget and balance sheets. That hardly constitutes as hegemony,” said Gabr.

“The general assembly will have the right to renew confidence in heads of boards or withdraw it based solely on the results they achieve.”

“We do not want conflict between the Press Syndicate on one hand and parliament and the NPA on the other,” says Abdel-Mohsen Salama, chairman of the Press Syndicate and Al-Ahram Establishment.

“There are disagreements on a number of articles and negotiations can settle them. No one should pour oil on fire.”

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