Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1402, (19 - 25 July 2018)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1402, (19 - 25 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Press laws passed

MPs finally approve three laws regulating the press and media, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

 

On Monday MPs voted in favour of laws regulating the National Press Authority (NPA), the National Media Authority (NMA) and the Higher Council for Media Regulations.

While Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the new laws will boost press freedom in Egypt he cautioned that “society can’t achieve success and progress without having a responsible media that observes national values and stability.”

Abdel-Aal told MPs that amendments to the laws — approved by parliament on Sunday ahead of the final vote on Monday — had come at the request of the State Council, the Press Syndicate and the Syndicate of Media Workers.

“After the laws were provisionally approved on 10 and 11 June parliament referred them to the State Council to be revised in constitutional and legal terms,” said Abdel-Aal. “We were also keen to receive the Press Syndicate’s view of the laws, and of controversial articles concerning custodial penalties, newspapers’ general assemblies and retirement age.”

The amendments were approved Sunday and a final vote taken on Monday.

Osama Heikal, head of Parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, told MPs “the committee responded positively to most of the amendments proposed by the State Council.”

Heikal said that among the significant changes is that journalists will be allowed to cover public conferences and meetings and conduct interviews without a “prior approval”.

“The change complies with recommendations by the State Council which viewed the prior approval stipulation as a direct assault on press freedom.”

According to Heikal, the most important amendment was to Article 29 of the Law Regulating the Press and Media. Initially it had allowed journalists accused of inciting hatred, promoting discrimination between citizens or questioning their honour to be placed in custody pending trial.

Heikal says the word “custody” has been removed from the article. It now states “no freedom restricting penalties shall be imposed in publication crimes, and penalties related to crimes of inciting violence, promoting discrimination between citizens, or impinging their honour shall be regulated by the law”.

“This is fully in line with Article 71 of the constitution,” said Heikal.

The committee rejected proposals the retirement age of journalists be automatically extended to 65.

“The law allows the retirement age of distinguished journalists to be extended to 65, on a year-by-year basis, upon the request of the relevant press organisation’s board of directors and the NPA,” said Heikal.

Article 17 of the NPA now states that “the board of national press organisations will decide whether the retirement age of journalists, managers and workers is extended according to need, and conditional on ratification by the NPA”.

Parliament also amended Article 24 of the NPA law.

Mustafa Bakri, an independent MP and editor-in-chief of the weekly Al-Osbou, said the article’s stipulation that “national press organisations allocate five per cent of their annual revenues to the National Press Authority” was unfeasible given the financial strains they face.

The amended article now obliges national press organisations to allocate just one per cent of their annual revenues to the NPA.

Parliament also agreed Article 39 regulating the NPA be amended to state that “the general assembly of a national press organisation should include “both journalists and financial and administrative experts”.

The general assembly will be now headed by the NPA’s head, and include three NPA members, six journalistic, financial, economic, accounting and legal experts to be named by press organisation’s board of directors, and seven workers affiliated with the organisation.

On Sunday Abdel-Mohsen Salama, chairman of the Press Syndicate and Al-Ahram Establishment, thanked President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for supporting press freedoms. “This support has helped resolve a dispute between parliament and the syndicate on newly approved laws regulating the press and the media,” he said.

Salama also expressed his appreciation of Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal and Heikal, for responding to the syndicate’s concerns about controversial articles in the new laws. 

According to Salama, the syndicate had been in negotiations with Abdel-Aal, Heikal and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan. “We presented our suggestions and remarks about the articles concerning press and media freedoms and successfully reached common ground,” said Salama. 

Salama also praised the cabinet’s role in bridging the gap between parliament and the syndicate and expressed the hope that dialogue between the syndicate and parliament will continue over the executive bylaws of the new legislations. 

The new laws still have to be ratified by the president before they go into effect. 

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