The recently approved anti-terrorism law, which awaits presidential ratification, stirred a wave of criticism from the press community in fear of an article in the law that penalises reports on terrorist attacks that conflict with official statements.
The penalty for reports deemed to conflict with the official narrative is a minimum of two years in prison.
The law has been in preparation for months, but was hastened in light of recent incidents, including the assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat and the militant attacks on army checkpoints in North Sinai.
The journalists who will be targeted in cases of implementing the law are Sinai and military correspondents.
Hoda Mohamed, El-Watan newspaper’s military affairs correspondent, told Daily News Egypt: “The law is unjust to journalists, as we are just doing our jobs.”
“It restricts press freedom,” she added.
Article 33 of the draft law, the details of which were revealed at the start of the week, states that violators “should be punished by a minimum sentence of two years in prison, [including] whoever deliberately publishes untrue news or data about terrorist attacks conflicting with the official statements released by responsible bodies”.
A major conflict in figures and reporting on militant attacks against army checkpoints in North Sinai on Wednesday stirred strong reactions from state officials.
“There is always conflict in what sources say,” Mohamed said, acknowledging that “sources sometimes are not so trustworthy”.
“I’m military correspondent, so my situation is special. I have to be careful and care about the morale of the army,” she said.
Early news reporting from local and foreign media suggested Wednesday that the fatalities among army personnel in the attacks ranged between 30 and 70.
To be officially approved to report on military affairs, journalists have to go under several security checks and a sort of military training.
“The official statements mostly have the correct information. Writing in a very sensitive area, every word has its effect,” Mohamed added.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reporter and award-winning Sinai-based journalist Ahmed Abu Deraa’ viewed the new law as “very dangerous”.
“Any mistake we make we will result is us being sentenced for two years in prison, while we are sitting ducks,” he explained.
Al-Youm Al-Sabaa’ Sinai-based reporter Mohamed Hussein said the law “especially complicates reporting from Sinai”.
“The field reporter plays the main role in telling the people the truth they need,” he said.
Hussein explained that a field reporter in Sinai covering militant operations depends mainly on anonymous security sources and eyewitnesses, adding that the new law “annulled all of that”.
When asked about what they expect for the future of the issue, the journalists’ answers varied.
“First, we will have to wait and see what the Press Syndicate will do,” Mohamed said. The syndicate’s council expressed concerns Monday over the 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 over many years.”
Abu Deraa’ explained: “We will cover all the news without mentioning figures. We will tell the story without numbers, like if there is an attack on a checkpoint, we’ll say that an attack occurred and a ‘number’ of [soldiers were] killed, without saying the number we got… we will leave that to them [officials].”
Hussein, on the other hand, stated that he will continue working with the same methods, illustrating that it is the publication’s decision to publish the reporting.