The head of Egypt's National Press Authority (NPA) Karam Gabr (Photo by Al-Ahram)
Egypt's National Press Authority has said that a draft press law which has sparked controversy is compatible with the constitution, while calling for its amendment.
In an official statement, the head of the authority, Karam Gabr, rejected claims that the new 55-article press law includes articles which could lead to the arrest of journalists, stressing that the law is compatible with article 71 of the constitution.
Article 29 of the draft law, which was approved by parliament last month and sent to the State Council for review, states that journalists can be jailed for publishing offences in the case of three circumstances; an incitement to violence or discrimination between citizens, or impugning the honour of individuals, as specified by law.
These conditions are also stipulated in article 71 of the constitution.
Gabr said the NPA is committed to the freedom of press and of journalists, and said that the NPA was calling to remove the “controversial” article on the condition that the rules of the constitution are taken into account.
Gabr added that the law did not include any additions to the article related to an extension of terms for press employees past retirement age, leaving the door open for press institutions to select employees according to their needs and demands.
Over the past weeks there has been some public discussion of the law, with some members of the Journalists Syndicate's board saying that the law was not presented to them prior to the parliament's discussion.
Journalists, including a number of members of the syndicate board, have also argued that the law does not represent the profession, opening the door for the institutions’ boards to take decisions to establish boards which control employees' destinies and ignore the demands of journalists to extend terms within decisions taken by the NPA.
They have also said the law gives more power to the NPA to regulate press institutions.
Critics have also said that the new law opens the door for pre-trial detention through its articles, which they say could be misused by authorities.
On general boards of institutions, the NPA said it was not consistent with the interests of institutions that the chairman of the board of directors is himself the head of the general board, which supposedly holds the board accountable.
Gabr rejected claims that the NPA aims to dominate press institutions, explaining that the general assembly of the heads of press institutions takes place yearly to discuss budgets and final accounts, and the general assembly then has the right to renew its confidence or suspend it due to results achieved by the institutions' heads.
The NPA said the law has been discussed over the past three years, rejecting claims that it was not presented to involved press bodies for discussions.
It also called on journalists to read the law's articles carefully, and not rely on unfounded statements about the law.
A number of members of the syndicate board have called for a silent stand on Wednesday against the law, which they said described as “the law to assassinate journalism.”