Egypt’s parliament approved on Sunday three draft laws aimed regulating the performance of the Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR), the National Press Authority (NPA), and the National Media Authority (NMA).
Osama Heikal, the head of parliament's media, culture and antiquities committee, told MPs in a plenary session that the new laws are comprehensive, covering all aspects of media and press activities in Egypt.
The parliament referred the laws to the State Council for legal review before sending it to the president for ratification.
Heikal said that the first law, titled the Law on Regulating the Press and Media and the Higher Council for Media Regulation, comprises 127 articles under six chapters.
"The first two chapters deal with press and media freedoms, the third on the rights of journalists and media people, the fourth on the duties of journalists and media people, the fifth on press and media crimes and the ownership of press organisations, and the sixth on penalties," Heikal said.
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs that the laws were drafted three years ago by a committee including experts from the government and the press syndicate.
"It took a lot of debate in media and press circles, and now is the right time to discuss it," Abdel-Aal said.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan told MPs that "what we discuss now is a major law and two other affiliated laws."
"While the major law is the one which regulates the media and press businesses and organisations in general and the Higher Council for Media Regulation in particular, the two other ones are complementary regulating the National Press Organisation (NPA) and the National Media Organisation (NMA)," Marawan said, adding that "the law also comes to implement Article 65 of the constitution, which states that freedom of speech is guaranteed."
Heikal said "the approval and passing of the three new laws will automatically lead to the elimination of the Institutional Regulation of the Press and Media law, which was issued in 2016."
"This law (no.92 of 2016) will be replaced by the three new ones," Heikal said.
Heikal said the three laws are free from any articles that could send journalists for jail in publication offences.
"The laws are keen to observe Articles 70 and 71 of the constitution in the fact that it eliminates any kind of media censorship," Heikal said, adding that "Article 72 of the constitution also obliges the state to preserve independence of press organisations and media outlets."
Abdel-Aal said he was keen to revise the chapter on penalties in the new law to ensure that it does not violate any of the international conventions Egypt ratified in the area of press freedoms.
Parliament’s opposition 25-30 bloc said they reject the new press and media laws, with bloc member Diaa Dawoud saying that the laws did not receive any kind of adequate discussion.
"We were surprised as usual that laws are discussed without any prior notification," Dawoud said, asking that "the law be discussed in public hearing sessions, with media experts from all political backgrounds participating in the debate."
Osama Sharshar, an independent MP and journalist, said he agrees that the law was not extensively and adequately discussed in parliament’s media committee's closed-door meetings.
"This is a controversial law and should be discussed in a different way," Sharshar said.
By contrast, Mostafa Bakri, an independent MP and journalist, said the law is balanced and objective.
"It makes a balance between rights and responsibilities, not to mention that it regulates electronic and online media in an objective way," Bakri said.
The parliamentary spokesman Salah Hassaballah said the law will boost press freedoms and the handling of information in a transparent way.
"But it also aims to impose discipline in press organisations in both financial and administrative terms," Hassaballah said.
Heikal said the new laws would reduce the number of members from 13 to nine for each of the HCMR, the NPO, the NMO, and that the editors-in-chief of state newspapers will operate independently from the chairmen of the board of their respective media organisations.
According to Heikal, the draft laws have been reviewed by the HCMR, the NPO, the NMO, the Journalists Syndicate, the Media Syndicate, the Competition Protection and Antitrust Authority, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the Chamber of the Media Industry.
Articles 33 to 37 deal in detail with the ownership of newspapers and online websites. Article 34 stipulates that a person aiming to own a daily newspaper should make a bank deposit of EGP 6 million, EGP 2 million for a weekly newspaper, EGP 1 million for a monthly newspaper.
"Persons who aim to own an online newspaper should have a capital of at least EGP 100,000," Article 34 says.
Articles 48 to 57 deal with the ownership of television channels.
Article 52 states that a single company cannot own more than seven television channels.
Article 53 states that the licensed capital of a company owning a news or public television channel should be EGP 50 million, EGP 30 million for a specialised TV channel, EGP 15 million for radio stations, and EGP 500,000 for an online TV or radio station.