The new “unified media and press law” was introduced in a press conference by the Press Syndicate on Sunday, amid a large presence of media officials and public figures.
Renowned writer Galal Aref, who is also head of the governmental committee for press legislations, announced the start of an “open dialogue” regarding the new draft law prepared by journalists and legal experts, including constitutional researchers and lawyers such as Nour Farahat and Hamdy Al-Assiuty.
Aref said that, since the law was drafted, “now is the time for social dialogue and suggestions to improve the law before it is presented to the government, where there would be further negotiations. Head of the Press Syndicate, Yehia Qalash, said that discussions and meetings within news institutions should start Monday.
Qalash said there was another law project related to imprisonment penalties. The proposal cancels ten articles of the Penal Code where journalists are subject to prison sentences, however keeps one article related to incitement to violence, defamation, racism, classism, or hate speech.
According to head of the freedoms and rights department of the syndicate Khaled El-Balshy, there is going to be a long battle with the government regarding suggested articles cancelling imprisonment.
Well-known journalist and member of the legislative committee Hussein Abdel Razek, who supervised this specific law, said: “The law not only cancels imprisonment, but also some crimes related to ‘insulting public officials’, which only exist in Egypt, all of which are crimes that are hard to prove, and are often used against press freedom.”
The law includes seven chapters organising press freedom and rights, and the institutionalisation of the media and press in Egypt. “Most importantly, the new law bans imprisonment in publishing crimes, and criminalises the assault on journalists while doing their jobs,” Aref said.
The new law is supposed to establish a new national council of press, whose members are designated by the president, according to a proposed division of representatives. According to Karem Mahmoud, head of the council’s legislations department, the government might object to journalists’ proposal because there is only one ministerial representative in the new division.
“We want only an official from the Ministry of Telecommunications to keep us updated with technicalities regarding broadcasting and the like, but this also means less power for the government in the press council,” Mahmoud told Daily News Egypt on the sidelines of the conference.
Furthermore, the new draft law suggests that boards of directors of news institutions should be mostly comprised of elected members rather than appointed members, in addition to specifying new standards for the selection of CEOs and editors-in-chief.
Also, former head of the Press Syndicate Diaa Rashwan, who has been active in terms of press legislation reform, said that this was the first time in Egypt’s modern history that laws on journalism, press and the media were drafted by workers in the field, and not imposed by the government.
According to Rashwan, it is crucial that conflicts stay minimal and progress towards issuing the law is made, before the establishment of a parliament “which might have another say, and become a third party in negotiations between journalists and the government”.
The committee members stressed on constitutional articles which stated citizens’ rights to knowledge, saying the new law enhances free access to information, and bans restrictions to it. A copy of the draft law is available on the syndicate’s online website.