The Journalists Syndicate has decried the decision by Parliament to pass legislation on Wednesday that created press and media regulatory agencies, saying in an official statement that the law does not reflect months of negotiation between stakeholders and government officials.
The syndicate’s opposition to the law — which founds the National Press Authority, the Supreme Media Regulatory Council and the National Media Authority and was presented to Parliament as a draft on Tuesday before being passed by a two-thirds majority — centers on a dispute over whether the original unified media law should have splintered into several parts, in addition to what leading figures call a deviation from the original law’s philosophy of freedom, responsibility and independence.
Journalists Syndicate head Yehia Qallash told Mada Masr that the Parliament’s decision to pass the law on Wednesday reflects authorities’ “rooted inclination” to expand their domination. “This direction, without doubt, will be reflected in the law regulating the journalism and media sectors expected to be passed later.”
“The decision to divide the law in two has practical implications that further marginalize journalists at a time when a law to regulate the entire sector is being prepared, because the new entities will have the right to issue the subsequent legislation instead of the Journalists Syndicate. These entities, in essence, allow authorities further domination,” said Khaled al-Balshy, a member of the syndicate’s board.
The Journalists Syndicate head also thinks that the organization was sidelined, with its involvement limited and cosmetic.
“Parliament passed the law without hearing the Journalist Syndicate’s or Supreme Press Council’s opinion,” Qallash said. “A few members of Parliament claim that the syndicate and council refused to attend parliamentary session on the proposed legislation. However, the truth is that I received a verbal invitation from the head of Parliament’s media and culture committee who said that the draft law was not yet available for discussion. In turn, I postponed my attendance, while waiting to receive the draft. I’ve gathered that the same thing happened to the Supreme Press Council.”
Qallash said he sent a letter to Osama Heikal, the head of Parliament’s media and culture committee, requesting a copy of the draft, but he never receive a response.
“What happened proves that my attendance as a representative of the Journalist Syndicate was wanted only to portray an image of Parliament as caring to hear the syndicate’s view in order to imply a consensus on the law,” Qallash said.
Qallash then sent the head of the committee a letter the following day demanding a draft of the law so that the syndicate could issue an official response, but he never received a response.
Egypt’s Constitution mandates the formation of the three media regulators. Article 211 stipulates the formation of the Supreme Media Regulatory Council, which will be responsible for “regulating the affairs of audio and visual media, printed and digital press and other media forms.” Article 212 outlines the formation of the National Press Authority, which will manage and develop state-owned press institutions. Finally, Article 213 orders the formation of the National Media Authority, which will manage and develop state-owned visual, audio and digital media outlets.
In accordance with the media regulatory agencies law, the Supreme Media Regulatory Council’s board will be composed of 13 members, three of whom will be appointed by Egypt’s president, including the council’s head. The head of the Egyptian Competition Authority and the head of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority will have seats on the council’s board, while the Journalists Syndicate and the Electronic Media Syndicate can each appoint two members.
Earlier this week, the Journalists Syndicate issued a statement reiterating its call for a unified media law that would adhere to the Constitution, notably Article 71, which prohibits all punitive measures curtailing freedom of the press.
The syndicate’s position is in contrast to many pro-state journalists and the government itself, who see the regulation as a necessary means to combat what it considers the dissemination of false news, a claim that is often deployed to challenge positions other than the government’s own.
“The world is up against Egypt, and small states are launching attacks on us through their media platforms,” Moataz al-Shazly, a member of the culture and media committee in Parliament, previously told Mada Masr. “We seek to strengthen state-owned media and benefit from all human resources in media outlets.”