The Egyptian Press Syndicate’s council is concerned with articles related to the press in the expected new terrorism law, stating that press freedom is the strongest weapon in the face of terrorism.
“The syndicate will severely oppose such a law,” the syndicate stated in an urgent Monday meeting to discuss the issue. “The law is a considerable setback to press freedom which has been fought for many years.”
The syndicate also invited editors-in-chief of national and private newspapers to a meeting Thursday, as it aims at escalating the issue with civil society workers against the perceived crackdown on press freedom.
The expected law has sparked controversy amid journalists, as the new legal proposal has penalties on the press in reporting terrorist attacks and related news.
“The law is a crackdown on press freedom, which we finally obtained and guaranteed in the constitution of 2014,” the syndicate said in a statement released Sunday, demanding state officials to reconsider the law, which they described as “dangerous, unconstitutional as it brings back journalists’ imprisonment”.
To counter terrorism, the proposed law stipulated that publishing news or information on terrorist attacks that conflicts with official statements would be a crime punishable by a minimum of two years imprisonment.
Following the assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat on Monday, Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim El-Heneidi proposed to the cabinet Wednesday several amendments to the new law, in terms of procedures and penalties. One of the amendments was the aforementioned proposed penalty.
Emad El-Din Hussein, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Shourouk newspaper, sees that the law will actually benefit “terrorist groups” more than it harms them. “When an incident will occur and people have to wait for hours before an official statement is issued, they will read foreign news reports of course,” Hussein said in comments to Daily News Egypt Monday.
Hussein added that “even worse, people will adopt views published by terrorism-supporting media or the non-truthful Muslim Brotherhood channels, amid absence of official information. In other words, the law might push society in the wrong direction.”
The new law would only apply to local journalists and news institutions, but there would be no control over foreign news agencies or other Internet content. However, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry criticised what he saw as foreign media reporting “inaccurate figures and statistics on the victims of the recent events”, and using “wrong concepts and terms” to refer recent attacks in North Sinai. He suggested that some outlets have called attacks a “rebellion”.
“The law is also vague and seems to want to hold journalists responsible for their intentions,” Hussein said.
Following the recent Sinai attacks, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said that some local and international media reports have been “untrue”.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Mahgoub, member of the editorial board of renowned privately-owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, believes the law is a reflection of the Egyptian state’s approach towards the press “in all times: silencing voices”.
“Throughout the history of Egyptian press laws, none have worked in favour of free information circulation,” Mahgoub said. Journalists previously stood against the regime demanding freedom of the press, including a famous wide demonstration in the mid-90s against Hosni Mubarak’s law imprisoning journalists, which resulted in the ratification of the law.
However, Mahgoub believes that such pressures are not likely to be effective today as the space for protesting is now closed. “I believe Al-Sisi is promoting the idea of the one-voice journalism, like Gamal Abdul Nasser did, forgetting that it was a failure and that those were different times,” Mahgoub said.
“In order to fight terrorism, the state needs the alignment of society, which could be jeopardised by this attempt to block information, instead of having direct and fast official public responses. This law is not going to work in favour of the state,” Hussein concluded.
On the other hand, Mahgoub said it was “fortunate” that the state does not have the technical skills required to impose restrictions on the Internet that other countries have. “Yet, it seems like we are inspired by North Korea’s media system,” he concluded.