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Egypt's cabinet passes long-awaited media and press bill

Veteran journalists say the law, which is awaiting final approval from parliament, guarantees oversight and legal accountability while preserving basic rights and freedoms

Ahram Online , Monday 16 May 2016
Al-Ahram news paper (Reuters)
Al-Ahram news paper (Reuters)

Egypt's cabinet endorsed on Monday a draft bill governing media and press operations, with the legislation awaiting final approval from parliament, Minister of Planning Ashraf El-Arabi told reporters.

Veteran journalists say the law is much-needed to keep media "chaos" at bay by guaranteeing oversight and legal accountability while preserving basic rights and freedoms.

According to El-Arabi, the legislation, which the cabinet has endorsed, will be put forward to the State Council, a judicial advisory body, before being referred to parliament for final consent.

The 227-article bill establishes a higher media council and two separate national authorities governing public and private media organisations.

The bill includes provisions guaranteeing press independence and others banning monopolies on TV channels and newspapers, setting a maximum share of 10 percent for individuals.

The law sets fines over violations committed by news organisations, and subjects both private and public media to legal governance.

Completed in August 2015 after months in the making, the unified law was drawn up by a 50-member committee of press leaders and law professors to regulate the work of the media.

While some of those who co-wrote the law had expressed fears that the government would impose changes affecting rights granted to journalists and media personnel, a press union leader has said the law was passed unscathed.

"The law has seen minor amendments that have not affected its essence," Gamal Abdel-Rehim, the press syndicate's secretary-general, was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA.

The same 50-member assembly that penned the bill has drafted another law that would establish the first union for media personnel working in TV, radio and online outlets.

TV and radio staffers have for decades operated without a union to safeguard their occupational rights or monitor performance.

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