A side view of a newspaper – File photo/Creative Commons
CAIRO – 16 July 2018: In a plenary session on Sunday, the Egyptian Parliament approved amending a number of controversial articles in the new law regulating media, concerning the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, National Press Authority and National Media Authority.
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation
A journalist or a media person has the right to attend public conferences, sessions and meetings, conduct interviews with citizens and use the camera in places where photography is allowed, after obtaining legal permissions in the required cases. The phrase “in the required cases” was added.
A journalist or a media person cannot be fired from his job before he/she is investigated. In addition, the syndicate has to be informed with the reasons behind the firing decision. Only 30 days after the syndicate is informed, the member can be fired; during the 30 days the syndicate will try to solve the problem and the individual’s salary must not be stopped during these 30 days. “Thirty” days replaced “sixty” days.
Without violating the penal code, a journalist or a media person is not allowed to accept any financial donations, aid, or benefits for his work from any person or any local or international site, directly or indirectly. The sentence: "If the individual was proven guilty of the violation, the value of the financial donations, aid, and benefits go to the pension fund of the member’s syndicate," was erased from the law.
A journalist or a media person is not allowed to seek getting ads or earning money or benefits through publishing or broadcasting ads. He/She is also not allowed to sign on an ad or to appear in an ad or participate in it with his voice. The phrase: "If he is proven guilty, the value of the money and benefits go to his journalistic institution or to the media channel he/she belongs to," was erased.
Any newspaper must have at least 70 percent of its actual staff from members of the Press Syndicate. Formerly, only 50 percent of the newspapers’ staff had to be members of the syndicate.
The word “custody” in the law was removed in the recent amendments. Meeting the demand of the Press Syndicate, the amended law stipulates that no “freedom restricting” penalties can be imposed on a journalist in publication and publicity crimes except those related to inciting violence or discrimination between citizens or slandering other individuals.
In all situations, it is impermissible to broadcast or rebroadcast from outside the media sites approved by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation. However, it is allowed for a media company or office to broadcast from outside the studio if it has a studio inside the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC). The media entity would also need a prior permission from the council including the date and place of broadcast.
The Supreme Council will study the request of the media channel to be established or operated within 90 days from request submission. A media channel shall obtain a 5-year license to be operated; the channel shall be able to renew its license following the approval of the Supreme Council.
The Supreme Council is tasked with creating a list of penalties that can be imposed on the journalistic institutions and media corporations if they violate the media law.
National Press Authority
The boards of the national journalistic institutions would decide on the retirement age of journalists and directors and would extend it if necessary. According to Osama Heikal, head of the Parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, the retirement age can be extended to 65 years for distinguished journalists only, year by year.
The NPA is not allowed, according to the law, to act in a way that may affect its independence. It is also impermissible for the authority to accept gifts or grants. However, the NPA will be able to accept donations and grants on legal bases following the approval of two thirds of the authority’s members. In this case, the NPA has to consult with the security authority before accepting the grants.
According to the law, 1 percent of the journalistic institutions revenues will be used to fund the national journalistic institutions whose need for fund is recognized by NPA.
The National Media Authority, according to the law, has the right to rebroadcast sport championships taking place inside Egypt. The law will solely give the NMA the authority to allow others to rebroadcast these events for a percentage of the broadcast right cost. However, the broadcast right cannot be obtained except by the state-owned national corporations.
The Press Syndicate’s board earlier held a closed meeting to discuss their concerns over the new media law, which faced a huge wave of criticism by journalists especially on social media, raising several questions on whether the new law will preserve media rights or impose more restrictions on Egyptian media.
The new law which consists of seven sections specifies the administrative construction of newspapers' high board and owners and defines exactly what it means to be a journalist. According to the new law, a journalist is “anyone listed as a member of the Journalists Syndicate”. The new law also lists the National Media Authority and the National Press Authority rights to interfere, manage and direct all of the Egyptian media outlets.
Several concerns were raised by a number of the Journalists Syndicate members regarding the new law. A debate was launched on the ground and on social media between supporters and opponents of the new law.
In the opposing statement, Journalists Syndicate members listed several points referring to the new law as “standing against the freedom of media and journalists.”
However, other officials described the new law as "balanced". Heikal said in statements to media outlets that the new law sets a number of the needed principles to regulate media work inside the country, adding that the law is balanced and protects journalists and their rights.
Some administrative regulations were among the criticized points in the new law, including: reducing the representation of journalists in the board of directors to the minimum and appointing half of the board members from outside the media institution, as well as allowing the NPA to directly manage the newspapers board of directors and public associations.
“The new law doesn’t allow the newspapers' board to make any important decisions without getting the authority's permission,” the statement read.
According to the statement, the new law also stipulates that the journalists have the right to reach for all the information they need.
Moreover, the media draft law included several terms and words which could be described as elastic and incomprehensible, according to the statement, such as “spreading hatred, incitement, threat of democracy", and many others. Several other notes were listed in the statement, commenting on some of the privileges granted to journalists by the draft law, including criminalizing any attack on journalists while on duty.
Article 100 of the new law states that: “Any person who transgresses a journalist during or because of his work shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of not less than LE 10,000 and not more than LE 20,000 or one of these penalties.”