Journalists Syndicate to draft new law in place of current ‘outdated’ bill

Officials at Egyptian  Syndicate of Journalists  say they are about to set to redraft the union’s “outdated” legislation to set up new membership regulations and provide protections for the country’s journalists.

They say the current, 46-year-old law has failed to address developments in the profession and the press market.

“It has become a necessity to draft a new law that tackles changes over the past decades and fulfil journalists’ calls for a free, independent union,” Karem Mahmoud, the union’s head of legislative commissions, told Ahram Online.

Mahmoud says the new legislation will adequately define the union’s role, membership conditions and the syndicate’s clout over news organisations, both private and public.

“This includes whether the union’s role only has to do with services it provides to journalists or whether it has a public role through which it could practice its social and political responsibility.”

Mahmoud says the new bill will look at means to grant the union power to hold accountable news organisations that violate journalists’ rights.

“Currently, if a reporter has been subject to arbitrary measures by their employers, punitive action can only be taken against individuals rather than organisations,” Mahmoud explains, adding that “penalties in such cases are deemed too lenient.”

Many newspapers, mainly the privately-owned, have for years evaded accountability in case of violations by frequently naming new chief editors.

Syndicate chief Yehia Kalash called on journalists earlier this week to put forward their propositions for necessary amendments to the law, while Mahmoud says the union will start holding talks on the matter next month.

Key issues

Members aim to include provisions in the new bill guaranteeing immunity for journalists from police violations and freedom to work without pressure from the state.

Kalash said in March that 27 journalists were behind bars in Egypt, with some sentenced to prison for publishing “false news” and belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, while others are facing trial on similar charges or are still in pre-trial detention.

Mahmoud also says that under the current legislation, news organisations hold too much sway over who is allowed to join the syndicate; something he says should be changed in the new draft. Only journalists with permanent contracts whom their papers recommend to the syndicate can be members.

“It should be up to the syndicate to decide who can be a member and who does not qualify.”

With the evolution of online news and the struggle of print to survive in the age of technology, the future of online journalists and whether they can join the union is among the main issue that will be laid on the table.

The current law only allows journalists working for print papers to be members of the 75-year-old body.

Some members suggest restricting membership to graduates of media and press colleges in the new bill.

Other key issues include extending the syndicate chief’s term from two to four years and achieving financial independence for the union, as officials say the main source of income for the syndicate is member subscription, which hardly meets expenses.

“Self-financing away from the state means more independence for the union,” Mahmoud says.

Some suggest ways to provide adequate resources such as abolishing a ceiling placed on the 1 percent margin the syndicate obtains from papers’ ad profits and getting a percentage of advertisement taxes collected by the finance ministry.

Earlier this year, syndicate leaders co-drafted a long-awaited bill regulating media and press operations, which they say is much-needed to keep media “chaos” at bay by guaranteeing oversight and legal accountability while preserving basic rights and freedoms.

The legislation is currently being reviewed by the State Council, a judicial advisory body, and will later be 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.

Source: Ahram Online