Egypt's Press Syndicate (photo: Ahram)
The board of Egypt’s press syndicate held a meeting on Wednesday with a group of MPs to discuss the unified press and media bill which is being prepared by the government and to advocate in favour of the original draft which it says has been modified.
A national legislative committee including representatives from the media, the press, the ministries of justice and planning, and the state council was formed recently and has discussed the draft law.
Earlier this month, the State Council concluded a review of the law, returning it to the cabinet, which in turn is expected to present it for discussion before the parliament soon.
However, the syndicate has expressed its objection to the draft, saying that critical amendments were made to some of its original articles.
According to Karem Mahmoud, the head of the press syndicate's legislative committee, the original version of the law stated that police are not allowed to temporarily detain or release on bail journalists or media personnel for crimes related to their work.
The amended version, which the syndicate objected to, cancels this condition and allows temporary detention or release on bail for publishing violations related to incitement, hate, or discrimination, says Mahmoud.
The syndicate believes the amendment is a backdoor for detention of journalists charged with crimes related to their work.
The original law stated also that general prosecution is the sole entity allowed to search a journalist’s home or private property when they are under investigation. This article was totally removed from the current draft of the bill.
Another article the syndicate protested, according to Mahmoud, is the article that determines the representation of media and press entities in the three councils that will be formed to govern press and media according to the constitution.
The amendment made to this article changed the representation of media entities' representatives in the councils of these three authorities in favour of governmental entities, making any decision related to media or press officially in the hands of the state.
The Egyptian constitution approved in 2014 stipulates the establishment of three authorities regulating the affairs of press: the Supreme Council of Press, the National Press Authority and the National Authority for Media.
Amending the retirement age of journalists is another article that has caused controversy according to Mahmoud.
In the original law draft, the article states that journalists have the right to 5 years’ extension after reaching retirement age (60 years), and it also stipulates that the during that period the journalist should not be provided a higher position in his organisation.
The amendment made to this article stated the right of extending the age of retirement as optional for media and press executives in each organisation, which opens the door for mis-use of the extension by executives in media organisations.
The press syndicate will intensify efforts during the upcoming period to explain its version of the unified press and media law, which grants the maximum amount of freedom and protection to the rights of journalists and media workers, Mahmoud says.
In that context, the head of the press syndicate's legislative committee assured the syndicate it will hold further meetings with parliament members and entitled bodies to explain its views regarding the law before it is submitted for discussion before the parliament during the upcoming weeks.
Following the election of a new parliament in 2015, there have been long discussions about drafting a unified law governing press and media, with expectations this law will be approved by the parliament before the end of the year.