File Photo: Egypt's Parliament (Photo: Reuters)
After three weeks of hot debate, Egypt MPs voted in favor of approving three controversial press and media laws on Monday. The approval of the three laws – the National Press Authority (NPA) law, the National Media Law (NMA), and the Law Regulating the Press and Media and the Higher Council on Media Regulation, came after Parliament amended a number of controversial articles at the request of the Press Syndicate and the State Council.
Abdel-Mohsen Salama, head of the Journalists Syndicate and head of the board of Al-Ahram Press Organisation, said in a statement that the Syndicate negotiated several matters calmly with Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan and Head of Parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee Osama Heikal.
“It is very good that we were able to reach common ground between the Journalists Syndicate on one hand and Parliament and state authorities on the other in a very peaceful and civilized way,” said Salama.
The three laws, which were provisionally approved by Parliament on 10 and 11 June, were amended on Sunday. Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said on 15 July that the final vote on the three laws would be taken only when a two third majority of MPs was available.
Abdel-Aal said on Monday that “as a two third majority of MPs is now available, I will take the final vote on the three press and media laws and before Parliament adjourns for summer recess.”
Head of the Media Committee Osama Heikal said the most significant amendment was that relating to Article 29 of the Law Regulating the Press and Media.
"This article allowed that journalists accused of inciting hatred or promoting discrimination between citizens or impinging their honour be placed in custody pending trial," said Heikal, adding that "the word "custody" was removed from the article, which now reads "no freedom restricting penalties shall be imposed on publication or publicity crimes,"
"Penalties related to crimes of inciting violence, promoting discrimination between citizens, or impinging their honour shall be regulated by the law," said Heikal, adding that "this is fully in line with Article 71 of the constitution.".
Heikal, however, said "the committee rejected that the retirement age of journalists be automatically extended to 65."
"The law allows that the retirement age of "distinguished journalists" only be extended to 65, year by year, upon the request of the press organisation's board of directors and the National Press Authority (NPA)," said Heikal.
Article 17 of the National Press Authority (NPA) now states that "the board of the national press organizations will decide whether the retirement age of journalists, managers, and workers will be extended if there is a need and that this will have to be ratified by the NPA."
Heikal also indicated that following the State Council's review of the draft law, journalists will be allowed to cover public conferences and meetings without a prior approval." With regards to taking photos, Heikal indicated that "this will be allowed in public places, but not in places where photography is prohibited for security reasons.”
Heikal said the existing boards of the NPA, the NMA, and the Higher Council for Media Regulation will continue in their roles until the three laws are ratified by Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and published in the official gazette.
Heikal said it is expected that the official promulgation of the three laws will be followed by a reshuffle, both of most of the editors of national publications and of the boards of the national press organizations.