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Monday, 11 June 2018

Parliament gives its preliminary approval to Press and Media Act, part II

LEGISLATION WATCH- The House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to part two of the Press and Media Act yesterday, but referred the legislation to the Council of State (Maglis El Dawla) for review before taking a final vote, Youm7 reports. The House’s Culture and Media Committee had decided on Saturday to split part two of the act into three separate bills that would each regulate work at different types of media organizations, as we noted yesterday.

Freedom of the press to be protected — with plenty of caveats: The law offers certain protections to journalists, safeguarding their right to access information, protect their sources, hold an opinion, and publish news without obstruction. Journalists would also be protected from being held in pretrial detention for any political or free speech-related cases. These protections, however, are highly contingent: They disappear instantly if a journalist “fails to obtain necessary permits” to conduct interviews or film in public spaces or if they are found to have published “fake news.” Prosecutors would also be given power to shut down or ban any printed or online outlet if deemed necessary at a time of war or public mobilization. Journalists and outlets that publish “private information” about individuals or fail to respect a state- or court-ordered media blackout would also face penalties.

The regulations will apply to social media accounts and blogs with a follower base of 5,000 people or more and impose a minimum capital requirement for all new outlets based on their medium, content, and frequency of publication as a prerequisite for obtaining the necessary permits from the state regulator. The minimum capital for a daily print newspaper would be set at EGP 6 mn, while online publications would only be required to have capital of EGP 100k. Television channels would be required to have capital of up to EGP 50 mn, depending on their purpose and content. All outlets would also be required to pay EGP 50k-250k for a five-year license.

Other regulatory stipulations: Requiring all press and media institutions to set a minimum wage and to establish insurance funds for their employees, and publicize their budget and expenditures, in addition to making sure that 50% of any institution’s editorial team and 70% of its overall staff is registered with the Press Syndicate. All media professionals and outlets would have six months from the date of the law’s issuance to comply with its requirements.

Are Google and Facebook about to get taxed? The law would also require all websites, including global advertising giants such as Google and Facebook, to pay taxes on all Egyptian advertisements they run. These taxes could bring in as much as EGP 1 bn in revenues to the state each year, Tax Authority head Emad Samy tells Youm7. The authority plans to collect taxes retroactively as of September 2016, according to Samy. Sources in government had told us earlier this month that the authority was also looking to impose VAT on e-commerce transactions.

You can also view the full text of the legislation here, courtesy of Youm7.

The legislation has not been particularly well-received by journalists and rights defenders. Parliament has not sent the final draft of the law to the National Council for Human Rights, head of the council’s media committee Gamal Fahmy tells Al Shorouk. Fahmy said the initial draft of the legislation had been put up for community dialogue and had been approved by journalists, media professionals, and the government, but the House’s amendments to the bill have undermined that consensus.

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