CAIRO: The government is reportedly reviewing a draft law, sponsored by the Ministry of Information, which would tighten the state’s control on audio and visual transmission in Egypt, local reports suggest.
Independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm published a draft law which the Minister of Information Anas El-Fiqi has allegedly written and sent out to several governmental bodies to review.
The law, which creates new legislation giving the government authority to control all audio and visual transmission in the Egypt, also includes the establishment of a supreme censorship authority to monitor the media.
Human rights watchdogs and journalists were outraged by the proposed law.
“We are facing the latest innovations of the Egyptian government for achieving its ultimate goal, which is placing the Egyptian citizen inside the ‘spiral of silence,’ said Magdy El Gallad, editor-in-chief of Al-Masry Al-Youm in his column.
“The draft law for the National Authority for the Regulation of Audio and Radio Transmission . is the most dangerous in the legislations arsenal and the procedures restricting general freedom, he added.
The law for “regulating audio and visual transmission and censorship on all broadcast media will be presented to the People’s Assembly for approval at their next round, which is scheduled to start in September, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.
When contacted by Daily News Egypt, the Ministry of Information refused to comment on the issue.
Earlier this year, Egypt and Saudi Arabia proposed to the Arab League the controversial charter of “Principles for Regulating Satellite Broadcast and Television Transmission and Reception in the Arab Region.
The charter, which was condemned by international groups and media analyst, calls on the regulatory bodies in Arab League member states to ensure that satellite channels broadcasting from their jurisdictions do not “negatively affect social peace, national unity, public order, and public morals or “defame leaders, or national and religious symbols [of other Arab states].
The draft law made up of 44 articles, includes all visual and audio visual mediums as potential subjects for monitoring in a wide definition that also incorporates “computer networks.
The law would also place the minister of information at the head of the proposed monitoring body, the National Authority for the Regulation of Audio and Radio Transmission.
Under the draft law, the authority would “protect the welfare of the public and the producers, providers and distributors of these services and monitor the material transmitted to ensure the retention of traditions and peace in society.
The draft law requires those responsible for “transmission to observe the “audience’s right to receive accurate information and “not to have a negative affect on social harmony, national unity, nationalism, public order and public moral.
“The government is insisting on pulling us backwards instead of moving forward by passing these laws which restrict the media and journalists, said Maged Sorour, executive director of the One World Foundation, for development and civil society.
“How could they claim that Egypt is a pioneer of democratic reform when they are continuously placing a limit on freedom of expression and opinion, he added.
The National Authority for the Regulation of Audio and Radio Transmission will also be responsible for setting criteria to obtain licenses and permits for visual and audio broadcast will be granted.
According to article 12, the authority will have a board of trustees, for which the minister of information will be the chairman. Other members of the board will include an executive chairman, the chairman of Egypt’s Television and Radio Union, head of Egypt’s State Information Service and representatives of the National Security Authority, Ministry of Interior Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Finance.
According to the code published by Al-Masry, the board will issue a code of ethics to censor locally produced material in addition to a set of criteria governing international programs that can be transmitted in Egypt.
The penalty for the violation of any of the rights of the authority, under articles 33 and 44, is a prison term or a fine, ranging from LE 10,000 to 50,000, or both penalties together.
Anyone who provides connections for any visual or audio broadcast channels without an official license would receive a prison sentence of two months to two years and/or a fine not less than LE 50,000.
Last April, Nader Gohar, who owns Cairo News Company (CNC), which provides equipment, production and satellite transmission services to channels, including Al-Jazeera and the BBC, was charged with importing and owning television equipment and transmitting television broadcasts without permission.
While CNC’s license expired in 2007, Gohar said that when he tried to renew the license he was told by the Ministry of Information officials that he would have to wait until new regulations were issued, but that he could continue operating in the meantime.
Gohar told Human Rights Watch that he thinks CNC was targeted because of its previous collaboration with Al-Jazeera. He thinks that the authorities may believe that CNC provided Al-Jazeera with the equipment they used to film in Mahalla during the April 6 and 7 clashes; something which Gohar denies.
El-Gallad predicted what the media will be like after the adoption of this draft law. “Television and satellite channels, radio and websites will all be flooded with soap operas and video clips. . Facebook will be become a forum for flirting and discussions of Haifa Wehbe. . My sincere greetings to our wise government.