The Supreme Media Regulatory Council (SMRC) decided to postpone on Wednesday the adoption of a controversial set of bylaws for media violations for one week to allow time for the Journalists Syndicate and the Media Professionals Syndicate to comment on the proposal.
The SMRC has yet to release an official draft of the regulations, but an article published on its website on November 21 did state that the council’s complaints committee had completed a draft of the bylaws. The article, which was later removed, came shortly after the complaints committee’s draft was leaked to the media.
A range of stiff penalties were listed in that leaked draft — including blocking websites, suspending broadcasts and imposing hefty fines — for media organizations that violate a wide set of ambiguous rules, including using anonymous sources or “insulting the values and beliefs of society.” The draft sparked widespread opposition, with over 600 journalists, writers, politicians and public figures signing a petition calling for its abolition.
Various officials, however, have sought to downplay the significance of the draft, describing it as a mere “proposal,” amid accusations that the council was trying to push through the restrictive bylaws without proper discussion.
The SMRC announced on Sunday that the final steps to issue the bylaws would take place during the Wednesday meeting. Instead, the attendees — SMRC head Makram Mohamed Ahmed, National Press Agency head Karam Gabr, Media Professionals Syndicate head Hamdy al-Kenisi, as well as two board members of the Media Professionals Syndicate, according to Zakareya — discussed the articles in the draft and agreed to reduce some of the financial penalties.
“The new draft reduces the maximum financial fine that the SMRC may impose on websites, newspapers or media outlets to LE250,000 instead of LE500,000 pounds,” SMRC member Hatem Zakareya told Mada Masr. He added that the majority of penalties are subject to decisions by the State Council’s administrative court within 15 days of their issuance.
The meeting attendees also agreed to change the name of the bylaws from “violations” to “regulations.” After the one-week comment period, the bylaws will be sent to the State Council’s legislative department to review its legal and constitutional terms.
The petition submitted to the SMRC against the draft criticizes the bylaws in no uncertain terms, calling them “the latest episode in a series of moves to censor freedom of opinion and expression and every available avenue for speech.” It called on the Journalists Syndicate and other relevant bodies to “act in the face of these regulations through all professional and legal means available, and to hold those responsible for drafting the regulations accountable, and to list them as enemies of freedom.”
The undersecretary of the SMRC, Abdel Fattah al-Gabaly, previously criticized the signatories of the petition as “journalists blowing hot air.” He said there was no list of regulations for anyone to oppose in the first place, and described the draft by the complaints committee as merely a collection of the opinions of individual committee members, which hadn’t yet been finalized.
Yet, soon after the draft was leaked, the head of the SMRC, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, defended it, saying on November 25, “those that drafted the list made a good effort, and most of the material is correct.”