Problems on hold
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives approved the law on the Institutional Regulation of the Press and the Media, previously touted as the unified law to regulate the press and media. On 31 January 2016, I reviewed the earlier version of the bill which albeit the new name has more or less retained the same features ( Towards a respectable, professional media) .
The bill was the brainchild of the Supreme Press Council (SPC) and the Journalists’ Syndicate, but was re-drafted by the government before it was referred to the House of Representatives, in order to ensure the constitutionality of its articles. The House’s Culture and Media Committee studied the bill and made a few modifications, after which it was discussed and approved in the plenary session.
The law in its new form neither puts aside the older version—the unified law to regulate press and media—nor does it overlook the efforts made by the SPC and the Journalists’ Syndicate on that score. It represents the first stage on the path of issuing legislation to regulate the press and media as stipulated by the Constitution and as conforming to the State Council resolutions on that score; the State Council is Egypt’s highest administrative court. Article 211 of the Constitution stipulates the foundation of a Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR) assigned with regulating printed and digital papers as well as audio and visual media. The Constitution also stipulates that the council should be consulted on bills and regulations that relate to its scope of competences.
Articles 212 and 213 of the Constitution stipulate the foundation of the National Press Organisation (NPO) and the National Media Organisation (NMO) to manage and develop State-owned press institutions, andvisual, audio and digital media, respectively. Articles 212 and 213 stipulate that the NPO and NMO should be consulted on bills and regulations pertaining to their respective scopes of work.
From a procedural perspective, the government should present the House of Representatives with legislation that regulates the work of the press and media on two stages. The first and current stage tackles the institutional foundation of the HCMR, the NPO, and the NMO, as well as their formation and regulation of their work. The second stage involves drafting the laws and regulations to regulate the press and media, especially since the two organisations are to be consulted on bills and regulations relating to their scopes of work.
Apprehensions which persisted in the press and media circles that the government was stalling on getting the bill passed as a law should now be put to rest. The SPC and the Journalists’ Syndicate were so outraged by what they saw as government ‘intentional stalling’ that they boycotted the discussion of the bill in the House of Representatives. In fact, the genuine effort put by the SPC and the Journalists’ Syndicate into drafting the unified bill to regulate press and media is not lost; it will be looked into when the government hits second stage. The bill they proposed includes regulations to ensure independence of press and media, as well as others to protect the community and ensure its right to a respectable professional media that honours treaties and can be held accountable.
Now let me highlight the main features of the law on the Institutional Regulation of the Press and the Media:
These are the main features of the formation of the three pillars for the State-owned press and media work. But they include nothing on privately owned press and media institutions. Can we expect this to be included in the second stage of legislation for the press and media?
25 December 2016