Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Silent protests

Media outlets cease publication in opposition to the draft, Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Eleven independent newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Shorouk, Al-Tahrir, Al-Wafd, Al-Watan, Al-Youm Al-Sabei, Al-Dostour, Al-Sabah, Al-Fagr, Al-Ahrar and Al-Ahali failed to appear on the newsstands on 4 December in protest at the draft constitution. They were joined on 5 December by ONTV, Al-Hayat TV, Dream TV and CBC channels. The four independent TV satellite stations halted all broadcasts and blackened their screens.
Media anger extended to state-owned television. When Hala Fahmi, a Channel 2 presenter, appeared on Sunday during her weekly programme Al-Damir (Conscience) carrying white coffin and saying “we will not accept the constitution of slavery” before the channel’s administration immediately cut transmission of the live programme. Fahmi was suspended from work on the ground that she committed professional violation and was referred to administrative investigation.
On Tuesday at noon journalists staged a protest in front of their syndicate headquarters before heading to Tahrir Square to join protesters who reject both the constitutional declaration and the newly drafted constitution.
On Saturday the Press Syndicate Council issued a statement claiming “the majority of Egyptian journalists” oppose the draft constitution prepared by the Constituent Assembly which it insisted violates the rights and freedoms of Egyptians, not least freedom of the press.
The statement added that the council would take disciplinary measures against Press Syndicate Chairman Mamdouh Al-Wali who refused to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly despite instructions from the syndicate’s general assembly.
“We have referred Al-Wali to a disciplinary committee because he did not abide by the general assembly’s decision to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly,” read the statement.
The board announced the syndicate’s withdrawal from the Constituent Assembly on 20 November. On 26 November the syndicate’s general assembly voted unanimously in favour of the withdrawal.
Press Syndicate Deputy Chairman Gamal Fahmi says the council is preparing a list of those it believes contributed to constitutional articles violating press freedom.
“The head of the Constituent Assembly Judge Hossam Al-Ghiriani will top the blacklist,” he said.
“The Constituent Assembly ignored eight proposals submitted by the Press Syndicate months ago yet the syndicate chairman attended the assembly’s final sessions and voted in favour of the constitution,” said Fahmi.
Al-Wali responded to the move by insisting that as chairman of the Press Syndicate he was not subject to many of the syndicate’s disciplinary committees.  
“The new constitution includes many articles that promote and respect the freedom of the press in Egypt,” said Al-Wali, “it gives any individual the right to establish a newspaper without government restrictions and prohibits the shutting down of any publication by the government.”
“The journalists’ decision to withhold the publication of newspapers sends a strong message to the domestic and international community on how media freedom is stifled under Mohamed Morsi,” says Bahieddin Hassan, director of Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies.
Hassan says he expects media freedoms to steadily erode if the new constitution is endorsed. The Muslim Brotherhood, he argued, has shown its determination to exercise control over the press.
Rights groups are concerned about the way three articles — 48, 29 and 280 — in the newly drafted constitution could be used to limit freedom of expression.
Article 48 states that freedom of the press, print and publication and other media outlets are guaranteed. It, however, stipulates that the message of the press and other media outlets should be directed to serve society and be restricted by the basic foundations of the state; and respect of the private lives of citizens and necessities of national security.
“The devil always hides in the details,” says Hassan. “And Article 48 gives the government a way to limit press freedom since it is the government that determines what constitute national security matters.”
Article 215 states that a national media council will be set up to regulate broadcasting, print and digital media and others. It also states that the council will be tasked with guaranteeing freedom of all forms of media and they preserve the interests of the public. However, it also states that the council will make sure that principles and ethics of the profession and society’s traditions be observed.
Article 216 states that a national press and media authority will be created to run the affairs of state-owned media and press organisations and maximise the returns of their assets.

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