Supreme Media Regulatory Council secretary: ‘We’ve yet to reach decision on website licensing, do not know when executive bylaws will be issued’

The Supreme Media Regulatory Council (SMRC) has yet to review applications hastily submitted a year ago by websites and media outlets to bring their operations into accord with restrictive media regulation legislation, the council’s secretary, Essam Farag, told Mada Masr. 

According to Farag, the council is waiting for the prime minister to issue the executive bylaws for the law in order to begin sorting through the requests. 

The long delay in processing the applications stands in stark contrast to the expedited process websites and media outlets were subjected to last year, when registration was unexpectedly initiated in contravention of the media law’s statutes. 

The licensing procedures began before the issuance of the law’s executive regulations, prompting concern among media practitioners at the time that it was an attempt to place outlets in a legally murky situation that would leave them subject to future punitive measures. 

Last October, the council offered existing outlets a two-week period to submit their paperwork — a significantly shorter timeframe than that outlined in the new legislation. Applications submitted along with a LE50,000 fee were to be referred to a licensing committee within the council, which was required to make a decision within 60 days of receipt. 

But in the year since the applications were submitted, the council has not notified any applicants of their status, including Mada Masr, which applied in the two-week window. It did, however, levy a LE50,000 fine and six-month block to Al-Mashhad newspaper in March 2019 for a report that police extorted local businesses for money to buy Ramadan meals in exchange for votes supporting the constitutional amendments that could keep President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in office until 2034. 

Despite the 15-day window offered by the SMRC in October, Article 3 of the Law on Regulating the Press and Media and the SMRC stipulates that journalists and media professionals have six months to bring themselves into compliance with the law once the executive regulations are issued. 

According to Article 2 of the law, the Cabinet has three months to issue the executive regulations of the law, which was ratified by President Sisi on September 1, 2018. The regulations should be issued after consultation with the SMRC, the National Broadcasting Authority and the National Press Authority.

Farag told Mada Masr that the registration process was opened before the bylaws were issued because the council believed the bylaws would be published soon afterward. 

“When the bylaws were delayed, the process of reviewing the applications was delayed. The delay is not on our account,” he said, adding that he does not know when the bylaws will be issued. 

According to a source from the council who spoke to Al-Watan newspaper, the SMRC has received approximately 150 licensing applications from websites.

There was widespread confusion among outlets last October when the council opened registration without executive regulations to clarify how the media legislation would be implemented. Executive regulations clarify articles and layout the implementation processes of laws. The regulations for the press law would distinguish between different types of websites, which media operators would ostensibly use to guide their applications. The executive bylaws would also shed light on the status of hundreds of websites that are blocked on Egyptian internet service providers, including this website.

When he spoke to Mada Masr last year, Khaled al-Balshy, a former Journalists Syndicate board member and the editor-in-chief of Kateb, an online platform that was blocked in Egypt shortly after its June 2018 launch, described the rushed licensing application process before the new press law’s executive regulations were issued as an escalation of “attempts to maneuver outlets attempting to comply with the new legislation into illegal situations, enabling authorities to punish them later for violating the law.”

Article 105 of the legislation stipulates that an organization that is working without a license may be punished by a fine of between LE1 million and LE3 million and the confiscation of equipment and devices used. The fine is doubled in the case of repeat offenders.

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