Problems on hold
The draft law regulating the press and media has finally reached its final destination: the floor of the House of Representatives that should deliberate its passage as law. In mid-June 2018, the final draft of the law was handed to the House by the special parliamentary commission which received it from the government in December 2016. The commission was formed of the parliamentary committees of media and culture; constitutional and legislative affairs; and budget and plan. The one-and-a-half years from December 2016 to June 2018 saw the commission exert arduous, meticulous efforts to come up with a final draft that would satisfy all constitutional, legal, and professional requirements for the press and media to fulfil their professional role and act as means of informing and enlightening society at large.
Before going into the articles of the draft law, it is important to grasp that the bill had undergone meticulous scrutiny by the parliamentary commission charged with drafting it in its final form. The commission consulted with all the institutions concerned. It issued a report explaining that, during the second and third rounds of the House of Representatives, the commission had subjected the bill to a careful study based on the provisions of the Constitution and the bylaws of the House of Representatives. It consulted with the institutions mandated by the Constitution: the Supreme Council for Regulating the Media, the National Press Authority, the National Media Authority, the Journalists’ Syndicate, the Media Professionals Syndicate, the National Telecom Regulatory Authority and the Media Industry Chamber. During the deliberations, it was necessary to seek advice from the Apparatus for Protecting Competition and Banning Monopolistic Practices, as well as the legislation department of the Ministry of Justice. In this regard, the commission included in its report an important detail. While studying the draft law, the report said, the commission learned that the Constitutional Court had ruled that a specific article in the current law regulating the press, Law 96 for 1996, was unconstitutional. That article stipulates that private legal entities other than political parties, syndicates or unions which publish newspapers, should take the form of cooperatives or joint stock companies. This article was found to violate articles 53, 65, 70 and 92 of the Constitution, which guarantee indiscriminate equality to the right of freedom of expression. Accordingly, the pre-requirement of a joint stock company for a citizen to exercise freedom of expression by establishing a paper or media platform constitutes a violation of the Constitution. The new draft law amends that in its Article 32 which stipulates that Egyptians, be they natural or legal personalities, public or private, have the right to own papers and electronic journalistic websites, or to participate in such ownership, according to this law. It is common knowledge that ‘natural persons’ are individuals and ‘legal persons’ are organisations and joint stock companies.
Let me take you on a quick read of the main provisions of the draft law:
· Law 96 for 1996 for regulating the press shall be annulled.
· The Prime Minister shall issue the bylaws for the new law within three months of the date it goes into effect.
· All who work in the fields of the press and media shall be obliged to adjust their status to comply with the new law within one year of the date its bylaws are issued, and according to the rules and procedures issued by the Supreme Council of the Media.
· The State shall commit to ensure freedom of the press and media, and ban censorship over the press and various media channels, also banning their confiscation, suspension, or closure.
· Journalists and media professionals are independent, subject to nothing but the law. They shall not be subject to questioning on account of what they publish or broadcast. They are not to be forced to disclose their sources of information. Their right to acquire information and disseminate it shall be secure.
· It is prohibited to publish or broadcast material that calls for or instigates violence, discrimination, or disdain of heavenly religions or religious beliefs; or encroaches on the private lives of citizens or those who engage in public work or those who have representative capacity; or what is being handled by investigation authorities or courts in a way that impacts those undergoing investigation or prosecution. The press and media shall commit to publish prosecution decisions and court rulings, and shall respect the rules regulating the right of reply and correction.
·It is criminal to attack a journalist or media professional on account of or while on duty, and it is criminal to refrain from publishing a correction.
There is more to the draft law, the reading of which I intend to resume in my coming editorial.
8 July 2018