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:
- Three new bodies shall be formed to regulate the work of press and media institutions in accordance with the Constitution. These bodies are a Higher Council for Media Regulation, a National Press Organisation, and a National Media Organisation. NPO and NMO replace the SPC and Radio and Television Union, respectively. Each board comprises 13 members; three are appointed by the president from among figures experienced in the press and media fields. The board term is four years, to be renewed once.
- The law defines the competences of the HCMR. These include licensing audio, visual and electronic media outlets and, in coordination with the relevant syndicates, enacting the regulations and standards necessary to ensure that press and media outlets and institutions abide by the profession’s code of honour. The HCMR receives and investigates complaints relating to published or broadcast material that jeopardises the reputation of individuals or infringes upon their personal life. The council takes the necessary measures against any press or media outlet that violates the law or the professional code of honour, and may refer violating journalists or media professionals to the relevant syndicate for questioning. The council may draw up rules and regulations to protect the rights of viewers and ensure the quality of the content offered. It may also put in place a system to monitor the sources of funding of press and media institutions in order to ensure that the funding is sound and transparent, and to monitor its application. The council may also impose regulations to ensure fair and free competition, and prevent tampering with it, and may define an acceptable proportion between the paper or air space allocated to advertisements and that allocated to journalistic content.
- The NPO is in charge of State-owned press institutions. It works on advancing them and developing their assets, and also ensures their independence, non-partiality, and abidance by sound professional standards. This is achieved through methodical tools for monitoring, follow up and evaluation.
- The NMO is in charge of State-owned media institutions that provide radio, television and digital broadcasting. It works on developing their assets and ensuring their abidance by national security requirements, and that their services indiscriminately reach the entire nation. It also works to ensure these media outlets respect the standards of media content as well as consumer rights.
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