Egypt ratifies new law regulating media outlets

Creation of council with authority to strip broadcasting rights comes amid rising concerns over press freedom.

Egyptian man reading newspaper
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 25 journalists have been imprisoned in Egypt in 2016 [Reuters]

Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has ratified a new media law that critics say is a blow to pluralism and press freedom in the country.

The new law, approved by parliament and signed into law by Sisi on Monday, will see the creation of a Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, a body that can revoke licences to foreign media and fine or suspend publications and broadcasters.

The council, whose chairman will be picked by Sisi, will create a list of penalties and sue media organisations that violate its regulations and fine outlets that break licence terms.

Yehia Qalash, chief of the press syndicate, told the Reuters news agency that the law and the council were mostly concerned with administrative affairs and did not compromise media freedoms.

However, earlier this month, when the law was still being deliberated in parliament, the press syndicate condemned the legislation as an infringement on the media.

“The law allows the executive power to take control of media outlets,” it said in a statement published by local media.

The new law comes amid rising concerns over press freedom in the country.

On Sunday, the interior ministry confirmed it had arrested Mahmoud Hussein, an Al Jazeera news producer, accusing him of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos”.

Al Jazeera has denied the charges and demanded his immediate release, saying Hussein was in Egypt on holiday and not for work.

“[Hussein] is a news producer in the Al Jazeera Arabic newsroom and not a correspondent supervisor as alleged by the statement … [he] would not have travelled through the airport at Egypt if he was undertaking any illegal activities as alleged by the MOI statement,” the network said.

WATCH: Face-off at Egypt’s Press Syndicate

Over the past few years, Egyptian authorities have arrested several Al Jazeera employees, with some being accused of conspiring with “the devil” to destabilise the country.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 25 journalists have been imprisoned in Egypt in 2016, making it the world’s third-worst jailer of reporters after Turkey and China.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies