CAIRO: Media circles in Egypt have been abuzz with contradictory reactions to a draft law by the Information Ministry, which calls on tightening state control over audio and visual transmission.
The law, which was first exposed by Al-Masry Al-Youm on Wednesday, creates new legislation giving the government authority to control all audio and visual transmission in the country.
It also stipulates the establishment of a supreme censorship authority to monitor the media.
“In newspapers [or magazines], we may publish controversial or inaccurate content and then we evaluate it; I hope this will continued to be the case with audio and visual transmission and that we practice freedom of expression, Salah Montasser, journalist and columnist at the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, told Daily News Egypt.
“[I hope] they are left to broadcast whatever they want after which we evaluate them, but never censor [the content] before transmission, he added.
The draft law was the main topic of discussion on primetime talk shows on satellite television channels Wednesday night.
Outspoken television presenter Amr Adib, host of Orbit’s “Al-Qahira Al Youm, criticized the fact that the government called for the creation of this censorship authority and at the same time appointed itself as its supreme judge, giving itself the right to determine what is or is not acceptable.
“It wouldn’t be an objective body this way, because they already dislike and criticize what is happening which is why they called for the creation of this body in the first place, he said.
On the other hand, he lauded a few positive aspects of the draft law, such as the protection of intellectual property rights by penalizing those who provide illegal connections for pay-tv channels.
Adib urged any official from the Ministry of Information to call in and comment on the draft law but to no avail.
However, former Minister of Information Mansour Hassan called in and condemned the draft law on air.
“Having a censorship authority is inappropriate; it should be an evaluation authority that ensures the media is objective and provides accurate information. It should be an independent body that is trusted by the public like the National Council for Human Rights for example, he said.
“The authority should ensure that the media is expressing itself freely but under a few regulations, however having a censorship body [controlling] the media is absurd, he added.
On the other hand, there are journalists who support the draft law. “This is a very important step Egypt is taking now. We’ve been late in taking such a step. All countries with satellite transmission have a way of regulating such a service, said Louis Greiss, journalist and member of the Higher Press Council.
“Media people shouldn’t be afraid, before saying that it is oppressing freedom of expression, they should read it carefully and think of creative ways, means or laws that we should adopt to regulate the satellite activity without losing freedom of expression, he added.
When contacted by Daily News Egypt, the press office at the Ministry of Information refrained from commenting on the issue and said that, “Nothing has been officially released by the Ministry.
According to the constitution, the internet is categorized as audio and visual transmission which will subject it to censorship by the authority, igniting concerns over online blogs and websites like Facebook, which have arguably become a forum for political activists.
Bloggers have criticized the law but said that it’s unlikely that it would have an effect on limiting public critique of the government on the internet.
“The law is pathetic and hilarious. I it is approved, people definitely won’t abide by it. It will just make them go back to working in the dark just like the old times, said Wael Abbas, journalist and human rights activist known for his blog misrdigital.com.
He said that the new law will fail to change the things it aims at changing.
“Some rules are meant to be broken.
However, he added that the law will wipe out any form of freedom, transparency and all the principles Egypt claims to the world it possess.
“This is a violation of freedom of expression in general. I also think it undermines the power of the government because it shows how threatened it is by some blogs and a forum like Facebook, said Karim Omar, of the art and photography blog Snap Shots. “However, it will never stop bloggers who have always been head to head with security forces and it never set them back,
Typically exercising their freedoms on Facebook, activists immediately created a group (No to Fiqi s Law) to publicly condemn the draft law and discuss it. The group has attracted some 276 members in one day and calls on people to support free media in Egypt.