Problems on hold
The bill for a unified law to regulate the press and media is expected to be placed before the House of Representatives soon. It should be discussed, approved and passed. Regulating print, electronic, and audio-visual media is a step long overdue on the path of ensuring the right of the community to be well-informed; and the thriving of an independent, respectable, professional media in Egypt. We live in an era where the media is pivotal in shaping public awareness; it can serve to enlighten or mislead the collective mind of the public.
With all the above in mind, I ventured on a thorough reading of the draft unified law on regulating the press and media. I was both impressed by and appreciative of the thought and effort that went into drafting the articles of the bill, and could see that they reflect a strong desire to preserve the dignity and prestige of journalists and media professionals on one hand and those of the recipients of the press and media message on the other. In an unprecedented move, the articles of the draft law place well-defined standards and criteria for the ethics and performance of the media, allowing thus a conclusive monitoring of media violations. They clearly outline how journalists and media professionals are assessed, disciplined and penalised in case they breach the codes of the profession or its performance standards. I especially highlight that this is unprecedented in case of the media, since it is not so long ago—during the last parliamentary elections held in November and December 2015—that prospective MPs staunchly pledged they would stand against any legislation that would allow the imprisonment of journalists. This had the effect of frustrating many Egyptians who saw it as an unjustified benefit for journalists and media professionals, an immunity against accountability and penalty. I had repeatedly pointed out that, if we really wish to preserve both the right of the community to know as well as the dignity and freedom of media professionals, we need legislation that would lead to self-monitoring by the media, so that violations may be spotted and violators referred to media disciplinary committees. This would guarantee both the right of the community and the freedom of the media. Incidentally, this course of action is required not for the media alone but for all professions, to protect Egyptians against violations, errors, and even crimes committed by professionals who violate the codes of honour and professionalism of various professions. Professional syndicates consistently fail to confront such violations; rather, they resort to dubious silence or, worse, cover-up, under the lame excuse of safeguarding the prestige of the profession. The end result is that violators and criminals get away with their crimes, and both the professionals and community pay the dire price.
I thus find the draft unified law for regulating the press and media welcome, and hope the House of Representatives meets it with as much approbation. Following is a briefing on the most significant articles of the draft law, with the main focus on the print and electronic press, given that they represent Watani’s two main activities.
- The State is committed to ensure the freedom of the press, media, printing and publishing activity, visual, audio and electronic publication. Any form of censorship, confiscation, stoppage, or closure of Egyptian press or media outlets is banned. The Supreme Council for Media Regulation may ban the circulation of pornographic material or publications that deal with religions or religious schools of thought in a way that disrupts social peace. This includes material that instigates discrimination, violence, racism, hatred or fanaticism.
- Government and public authorities are committed to establishing a department or bureau to communicate with the press and media, in order to enable journalists and media professionals to access information, announcements and news. It is banned to impose any restrictions that would impede the circulation of information, or that would stand in the way of the equal opportunity of the various print and electronic papers and audio and visual media in their right to acquire information.
- Journalists or media professionals are committed in that the material they publish or broadcast should conform with the principles and values cited by the Constitution, the provisions of the law, and the profession’s ethics and traditions, while not violating any citizenship rights or freedoms. They are bound by the profession’s code of honour. They are accountable in front of the syndicate in case they breach the duties stipulated by this law or by the profession’s code of honour. Journalists or media professionals are committed not to publish or broadcast any racial calls that involve affront to religion, challenge other faiths, or calls to promote discrimination or contempt of any of the community’s sectors.
- The editor-in-chief of a paper or manager of media outlet must publish or broadcast—upon the request of those concerned—a correction of reporting or announcements published or broadcast in the paper or media channel within three days of receiving the correction request, or in the first issue of the paper following the printed episode that needs correction. In all cases, a correction may not be printed or broadcast without taking to account the journalist or media professional responsible for the cause for correction, by the appropriate department in the relevant syndicate.
- Anyone who offends or assaults a journalist or media professional, with or without a reason, while he or she is on the job, is subject to imprisonment and a fine of at least EGP10,000, or any of the two penalties. Any editor-in-chief or manager of media outlet is subject to a fine of at least EGP5,000 and at most EGP20,000 if he or she breaches the articles relevant to the right of reply, or if he or she commits the crime of refraining from publishing the correction.
- Anyone who discriminates between citizens basing on gender, origin, language, religion, or creed; or basing on political, geographical or ethnic affiliation, or colour, handicap or social standard is subject to imprisonment or a fine of at least EGP10,000 and at most EGP30,000.
The above were among the articles of the draft unified law on regulating the press and media, with the aim of rooting the basis for a professional, honourable media.
31 January 2016