New bylaws established by Egypt's top media regulator and approved by the Egyptian parliament and published in the official gazette came into force Monday.
The new bylaws aim to regulate all forms of media as well as social media accounts for people with more than 5,000 followers.
Below is Ahram Online’s guide to the new bylaws.
Q: What are the new bylaws?
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued a nine-page resolution, No 16 for 2019, concerning sanctions and measures that apply to entities subject to the oversight of the Supreme Council for Organising the Media.
Q: To whom do the bylaws apply?
The bylaws apply to press institutions, national newspapers, private media institutions, public media institutions, private media outlets, public media outlets, websites, and newspapers.
Q: What are some of the new stipulations?
The nine-page legislation has 14 articles on violations that could occur on media platforms, and stipulates the different sanctions to be applied for these violations, which include:
Article 14: Conflicting with Provisions of the Law
Sanctions will be implemented against a press organisation, media organisation, media outlet, newspaper or website that publishes any article or declaration whose content conflicts with the provisions of the constitution or calls for the violation of the law, violates the obligations set forth in the Code of Professional Honour, violates public order or public morals ... or offends religious doctrines.
Article 16: Defamation, Slander
Sanctions will be implemented for using or permitting the use of words or phrases that slander, defame or violate the privacy of citizens, misleading the public, or disseminating false information. Threatening or harming the public's feelings are also punishable offenses.
Article 17: False News, Inciting Violence on Social Media
Sanctions will be implemented for the publication or dissemination of false news or rumours, incitement to violence, hatred, discrimination, sectarianism, racism or threats to national unity. Insults to the law, misleading public opinion, insulting public opinion or the opinion of the other, disseminating information from social media sites without verifying its validity are also punishable.
Article 22: Covering Military and Security
Failure to comply with the rules of covering military or security operations or terrorist incidents can result in a prohibition on publishing or broadcasting or the temporarily blocking of the proscribed page, section, program or website.
In case of this violation — as assessed by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation — the council may take whatever measures it deems appropriate to address this violation in accordance with Article 6 of these regulations.
Article 26: Protection of Intellectual Property Rights
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation shall take the necessary measures to ensure the protection and respect of intellectual property rights in the field of journalism.
Violators shall be obliged to pay a sum not exceeding EGP 5 million or the equivalent in a foreign currency, and the violator shall be obliged to pay the appropriate financial compensation to the party whose intellectual property rights have been violated.
Q: What are the sanctions for violations?
The sanctions range from warnings to media publications and fines and penalties of EGP250,000 without a court order. Other sanctions include banning and blocking websites and social media accounts with over 5,000 followers if they are deemed a threat to national security.
Media outlets that continue to publish "offending material'' will be fined up to EGP 5 million.
Q: What criticisms are being levelled against these new laws?
Prominent Egyptian journalists have called the measures unconstitutional. Mohamed Abdel-Hafiz, a board member of the Journalists Syndicate, told Ahram Online that the newly introduced bylaws contravene articles 70 and 71 of the constitution, which guarantee freedom of the press and freedom of publication.
Abdel-Hafiz quotes Article 71 of the constitution; “It is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way. Exceptions may be made for limited censorship in time of war or general mobilisation.”
Abdel-Hafiz said that the new bylaws are worded too vaguely.
“These new bylaws put a stamp of legality on the ongoing struggles faced every day by journalists and the media, and they give the council the power to decide what can be published without any court orders,” said Abdel-Hafiz.
Q: How has the council reacted to criticism?
Supreme Media Council head Makram Mohamed Ahmed responded to the criticism in a statement issued late on Sunday. Ahmed said that the council's regulatory role gives it the right to act as a watchdog and sanction all kinds of media, including social media networks.
Ahmed said that blocking or banning can take place in cases of extreme necessity in the face of serious media crimes and non-compliance with council decisions.
The chief of the regulatory body highlighted that this procedure has not been taken since the council was established 20 months ago, except in one case, where a media outlet committed 45 violations, each of which was investigated and the outlet was warned several times.
Q: What's next?
Members of the press syndicate board have been discussing the matter with lawyers, according to Abdel-Hafiz, and have filed an appeal with the State Council against the new legislation.
“I have been in contact with all my colleagues in the press syndicate. We all hold the same position and we will appeal against these bylaws, which not only contravene the constitution, but also many laws," said Abdel-Hafiz.