Egypt's media bill may bring demise of small, online outlets

AP News
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Posted: May 18, 2016 1:13 PM

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian journalists said Wednesday that a new draft bill regulating the media would likely bring the demise of dozens of low-budget, online media outlets serving as a refuge for young writers and liberal activists escaping government restrictions on freedom of expression.

Planning Minister Ashraf el-Araby announced the government's adoption of the long-awaited bill on Monday. The 227-article bill will be sent to parliament, which is dominated by a coalition loyal to president Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, for final approval.

The bill sets a host of conditions for starting up media outlets, including the creation of a shareholding company with a minimum initial capital of 500,000 pounds (about $50,000), a sum that is far beyond the reach of the typically young entrepreneurs and journalists behind such enterprises.

Doaa Sultan, editor of the independent online media site "Plus 18," described the bill as a "disaster." She added: "This legislation destroys the alternative and independent media."

Ahmed el-Fakhrany, editor of Qoll, or "Say," an online news magazine, charged the new bill was designed to bring independent online media under government control. "Under the new bill, my options will be to either close down or look for a businessman (to finance the site) who may control the editorial line."

Plus 18 and Qoll are among scores of online media sites that have, over the past decade, served as an outlet for young writers who are often critical of the government. They have taken on added significance in the past two years as el-Sissi's government has significantly restricted freedom of expression.

Egypt was ranked 158 out of 180 countries in the 2015 Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders, a freedom of expression advocacy group. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Egypt was second only to China as the world's worst jailer of journalists in 2015.

However, the journalists' union, welcomed the new draft.

Gamal Abdel-Rehim, the union's secretary-general, said the terms set by the bill for the creation of online news outlets were designated to prove the "seriousness" of their owners.

But media expert Naglaa el-Omary said the bill fails to recognize new technological trends in the media. "I don't know how they will control the social media platforms ... It is impossible."