New media law in Egypt paves the way for a new Supreme Council to regulate and control the media, raising further press freedom concerns.

On Monday 26 December Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, signed a new media law into effect which will arguably allow greater media control and manipulation by State institutions. The law indicates the creation of a ‘Supreme Council for the Press and Media’ whose president will be chosen by Sisi himself. The remaining 12 board members will initially be nominated by various institutions such as the judiciary and parliament, but will ultimately be approved by Sisi too.

The Supreme Council will have new powers when it comes to regulating the media, such as suing media organisations that fail to comply with its regulations, creating a list of penalties and revoking the right to publish or broadcast. Supposedly the council will also monitor that media groups comply to journalistic ethics and standards whilst ensuring their independence and neutrality, and that they don’t undermine national security.

In a country with consistently low press freedom scores and poor journalist safety records, this law didn’t fail to generate criticism.

“The new law is a consecration to the current [pro-state] media dominance. … It opens the door for further corruption,” Khaled el-Balshy, the head of the Egyptian Press Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee said.

However, according to the law, the newly formed Council would ensure that citizens have the right “to enjoy a free and honest media” and guarantee “the compliance of media institutions to the requirements of national security”. Yehia Qalash, chief of the Press Syndicate, said that both the new law and the new council would not compromise Egypt’s media freedom as they predominantly aim at solving administrative issues.

Nonetheless, Freedom House reported that Egypt was the world’s third-worst incarcerator of journalists in 2015, keeping 23 reporters in prison. In addition, according to the website Al-Monitor, there are 63 journalists and media professionals behind bars as of December 2016.

“The Egyptian press has always dealt with dictatorships restricting its freedom. But the level of repression is currently at its worst ever,” el-Balshy added.

The law also appears to ignore the state’s constitution. Yehia Kallas also told Al-Monitor that the new law disregards Article 72 of the Egyptian Constitution. The Article states that “the State shall ensure the independence of all state-owned press institutions and media outlets, in a manner ensuring their neutrality and presentation of all political and intellectual opinions”.

However, both the State and the President’s involvement in media regulations dictated by the new law will significantly challenge media’s independence and neutrality in the country.

Meanwhile, the Parliament is still debating other media legislation that will deal with sentencing, freedom of information, confidentiality of sourcing and the relationship between journalism and national security.

Header image: El Cairo. Image: Faris Knight/ Creative Commons