The Supreme Press Council (SPC) submitted a memorandum to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Wednesday, seeking to justify their move to extend the tenures of editors-in-chief of state-run publications until the council reformation is complete.
This comes as the SPC has recently caught the attention of the House of Representatives, with members of parliament in the Press Committee seeking to amend Article 68 of the Press Regulation Law issued in 1996.
The amendment would give Al-Sisi oversight over the reformation of the council, stirring fears over the independence of national newspapers.
“The main issue with state newspapers is that the Constitution tries to place them as independent of the executive branch, political parties, and the like, so that they serve as a space for dialogue between all currents,” said SPC general secretary and veteran journalist Salah Eissa.
“If the current executive guarantees their independence, there’s no telling that future executives will be the same,” Eissa added.
However, Press Committee head Ossama Heikal dismissed concerns over freedom of expression saying that “the SPC has misused its power and has sought to empower a certain current in Egyptian journalism. The situation is being framed as an attack on freedom of speech, but this is a purely administrative issue.”
Heikal believes the SPC did not intervene to solve any of the concerns facing state media.
“To the SPC, I say state-run newspapers belong to the state and not to them. Their mission is to manage the budget allocated to the press,” Heikal said.
However, Eissa claimed that the proposed amendment was unconstitutional because the SPC, as a regulatory body, is not part of the Constitution.
The memorandum further asked Al-Sisi to urge the government to expedite the vote on the Unified Media Law in parliament and to use his executive powers to stop the amendment from going through.
The parliament has not yet approved the new law, which was proposed late last year, and would see the SPC dissolved in favour of a new National Council of the Press. The text is pending revision by the State Council.
This law suggests that boards of directors of news institutions should be formed mostly via elections instead of appointment. The law is meant to give the government less power within the National Council.
Heikal told Daily News Egypt that the law was due to pass to the parliament last week, but the State Council was still deliberating the wording of a number of articles in the law with the cabinet.
“What concerns [the Press Committee] most is the overall welfare of national journalistic institutions, and their situation appears insoluble. So, change is due until the law is deferred to parliament, and should this happen quickly, it would be much better than this temporary solution,” Heikal said.
“There is not a strong justification to issue [the amendment to Article 68] right now because the only body that could replace the SPC with its current configuration is the National Council of the Press, which has not been formed yet,” Eissa countered.
MP Mostafa Bakri proposed the amendment to the parliament’s Media and Culture Committee earlier this month. It was approved by 324 MPs during the vote.