Editors-in-chief of national, private and alternative newspapers have decided to back the Press Syndicate’s rejection of the as-yet-to-be-issued anti-terrorism law’s Article 33. The move follows a meeting late on Thursday night at the syndicate.
“The meeting concluded that the government must revise all observations sent by the Supreme Judicial Council, the National Council for Human Right, professional syndicates and political parties regarding the law,” the syndicate said in a statement released Friday.
The attendees also included writers, who agreed to the syndicate’s demands to abolish the article and amend four other articles, restricting freedom of expression and violation constitutional guarantees on press freedom.
This comes as Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, and several ministers including Minister of Justice Ahmed El-Zind, also sat with the Press Syndicate’s President, Yehia Qallash, Secretary-General Gamal Abdul Reheem and renowned members Kahled El-Meery and Khaled El-Balshy.
According to Abdul Reheem, the government “admitted its mistake in announcing the law without prior consultation with the syndicate and promised to take it back”. Government officials had said the law was being revised, and that there were discussions on whether to remove the controversial article or replace it.
Article 33 of the anti-terrorism law, which has yet to be passed, states that “anybody who intentionally publishes false news or statements regarding terrorist operations that contradict official state data, shall face a minimum prison sentence of two years”.
Editors-in-Chief of leading newspapers such as Khaled Salah of Al-Youm Al-Sabea, Mahmoud Mossalam of Al-Masry Al-Youm, Magdy El-Gallad of Al-Watan and Yasser Rizk of state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper, viewed their meeting with Mehleb as a positive step. They hope that negotiations would continue.
“We all thought El-Zind was behind that article, and when we entered the meeting and saw him in the room, I did not feel optimistic. But I was mistaken as negotiations went well,” said Khaled Salah.
Salah interviewed El-Gallad on his TV show on Al-Nahar channel Thursday evening, where the two discussed details of press coverage given to terrorist events. During the programme, they also discussed the state’s responsibility in guaranteeing access to information.
“There is something called the right to know,” El-Gallad told Salah. “Besides, I cannot imagine how a journalist, a member of the Press Syndicate, could stand together in the same trial case with somebody charged of terrorism.”
Meanwhile, Salah praised Mehleb’s repeated statements that “journalists were part of the state and would not be jailed”. This was met with much criticism, as several journalists are already in prison.
Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said via his official Facebook account on 8 July, that the problem was not with Mehleb’s statements. Instead, he said it was rather “with those journalists who believed and thanked him, who know for a fact that their colleagues lie in jail”.
The Press Syndicate will host a press conference Saturday, which will mark 700 days of the detention of photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as ‘Shawkan’. During the press conference, the syndicate will reveal the latest statistics on jailed journalists.
El-Gallad said that current security circumstances are more dangerous, because “the war against the unknown is harder, especially that the war on terrorism includes various countries and militant organisations”.
He believes that because of the difficult situation, mistakes might occur. However, El-Gallad argued that “closing space for political criticism is not good for the state”. He added that “some fellow journalists try to present themselves as voices of the state by criticizing others’ opinions and accusing them of treason”.
His comments followed criticism he received regarding a recent article he wrote last week entitled “I am a cockroach, and so are you”. In the article, he said that the life of the Egyptian citizen “has always been worthless in the eyes of the state”.
“Our role in the media is to help the government by shedding light on socio-economic issues,” said El-Gallad, who presents a daily programme on CBC channel discussing non-political issues including electricity, supply, and so on.
On the other hand, Salah appeared more concerned with the business side of the issue. “As market leaders, the law puts us at risk of losing important traffic,” he said. Salah had launched an initiative where a sort of agreement would be made between local newspapers to “put national interests and accuracy before breaking news and competitiveness”.
“Still, we would have to face foreign media websites who will take advantage,” Salah said.
Both journalists agreed that there can be no credibility and accuracy in the media in the way the state is demanding, without the latter fulfilling its role first in making information available, on time.
“I am not talking about military operations only, I mean sometimes it is understandable that the war on terrorists is ongoing and that there could not be prompt statements,” El-Gallad explained.
Nonetheless, he blamed other government institutions and officials whom he accused saying “they would rather cut off a piece of their body than give you a piece of information”.
El-Gallad said that, based on a conducted experiment, he had come to conclude that the government abstains from providing simple information essential to the people and “silly” to the state using “national security reasons” as pretext.
Finally, El-Gallad stated that a suitable media environment should be in place and penalties on those who refuse the provision or access to information to be reinforced, as well as clearly redefining the concept of “national security”.