The Supreme Press Council (SPC), a fifteen-member body headed by former press syndicate chairman Galal Aref, formed a committee on Tuesday that is tasked with drafting changes to the constitutional articles on freedom of speech. The committee’s changes will serve as a basis for the SPC’s recommendations to the 50-member Constituent Assembly responsible for amending the 2012 constitution.
The committee includes members of the SPC, the Press Syndicate and constitutional law expert Mohamed Kebsh. Their recommendations are to be presented to the SPC for discussion on Thursday.
Kareem Mahmoud, Secretary-General of the Press Syndicate, said that the syndicate is cooperating with the SPC to ensure that their demands be a part of the body’s recommendations to the constitutional panel.
“We have been emphasising the need to change nine articles in the 2012 constitution that centre on press freedoms, the management of state-owned newspapers and the independence of the press,” Mahmoud said.
The Press Syndicate has already presented the SPC and the Legal Experts Committee with their draft of the constitutional articles in need of amendment. Its draft includes amendments that describe the press as “the fourth pillar of the state,” guaranteeing the independence of the press, particularly state-owned media from political parties and the government, and calls for freedom of information to be respected by public institutions.
The syndicate’s draft also outlines that charges of slander can only be brought against a journalist by the individual that was directly harmed. It adds that journalists can be fined, but not imprisoned, if their work proves to have violated press laws.
However, statements made by Gamal Abdel Raheem, member of the syndicate board and former editor-in-chief of Al-Gomhorreya newspaper, reveal that the call for amending the constitution to guarantee press freedoms has not been well-received by all.
“The draft recommended by the Legal Experts Committee is worse than the 2012 constitution,” Abdel Raheem said, adding that the syndicate’s recommendations were completely disregarded by the committee. “If our recommendations are not respected, we will take all necessary steps and measures to ensure that they will be included in the new constitution.”
Abdel Raheem accused the Legal Experts Committee of going against the recommendations presented by the Press Syndicate. He also criticized the committee for failing to differentiate between television and print journalism in its regulations over the press.
“One of their worst moves is to say that the president appoints the head of the press council after parliamentary approval; where is the independence of the press?” Abdel Raheem said in anger. “Whoever is hired by the president will follow the politics of the president.”