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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06CAIRO4140 2006-07-05 11:19:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
Cable title:  

MEDIA CONTROVERSY OVER PROPOSED DRAFT OF NEW

Tags:   PGOV PTER KPAO KMDR OPRC EG AL AG 
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DE RUEHEG #4140/01 1861119
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051119Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9678
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 004140 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NEA/PD FOR FRANK FINVER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/05/2016
TAGS: PGOV PTER KPAO KMDR OPRC EG AL AG
SUBJECT: MEDIA CONTROVERSY OVER PROPOSED DRAFT OF NEW
EGYPTIAN PRESS LAW


Classified by DCM Stuart Jones, reasons 1.4 (b) and (c).



1. (C) Summary: The Cabinet has approved a new Press Law and
referred it to the Shura Council. The new draft law would
substitute fines for imprisonment for journalists convicted
of libel, but preserve jail time as an option for those who
publish a newspaper illegally or who cast aspersions on the
financial rectitude of others. Fines would be increased for
those who defame a public official and insult the
representative of a foreign country accredited to Egypt. The
draft law would also move liability to prosecution for libel
directly onto working journalists, and absolve editors and
publishers. The Press Syndicate issued a statement
criticizing the Cabinet for disregarding the Syndicate's
proposed amendments. The coming two weeks (prior to the
closing of the current Parliamentary session on July 15) will
witness continued vigorous debate. End summary.



2. (SBU) The Cabinet has approved a draft bill of a new
publishing law that would reduce the punishment for most
kinds of libel from imprisonment "and/or" a fine to "only" a
fine. The current draft reportedly contains the following
provisions:

(a) Abolish the practice of suspending newspapers for
infractions of the publishing law;

(b) Abolish the presumption that editors-in-chief and
publishers are personally responsible for any libelous
content in their publications, but instead hold the reporter
liable for a fine and/or compensation to victims for libel
crimes he commits through his reporting;

(c) Abolish imprisonment as a punishment for many infractions
of the law, but create a fine for a new violation, that of
publicly insulting the official representative of an
accredited foreign country.

(d) Establish "casting aspersions on the financial rectitude
of individuals" to the already existing crimes of libel,
slander, insults, doubting a person,s honor, and damaging a
family,s reputation; and the penalty of imprisonment and/or
a fine would be preserved for breaking it.

(e) Establishing a new crime -- "violating the security of
the government."

Imprisonment would be reserved as an optional punishment for
the publishing of a newspaper in violation of the Press Law,
in addition to confiscating the newspaper,s issues.

The new law would also increase fines for:

(i) libeling public figures, officials and individuals who
are performing public duties, unless the accusations can be
ascribed to a specific incident;

(ii) publishing, trading, creating, and possessing images
that damage the reputation of the country (presumably aimed
at defamatory political cartoons).



3. (SBU) The Egyptian Press Syndicate strongly objected to
the draft law, on grounds that it ignores the basic points it
had originally submitted to the Cabinet in its proposals for
a new press law. The Syndicate also criticized the inclusion
of the new crime of "financial defamation," and the fact that
it would include imprisonment as a penalty option, even
though imprisonment has been abolished as a penalty in other
areas.



4. (SBU) In a meeting with Shura Council Speaker Safwat
al-Sherif, the Press Syndicate complained the provision for
imprisonment and/or heavy fines for "financial defamation"
undermines the ability of the press to expose corruption. It
warned they would escalate opposition to the draft law
starting with a sit-in protest on Monday, July 3, to be
followed the next day with a general meeting to decide on
tougher steps that might include refraining from publishing
their newspapers. The Syndicate also opposed increased
fines, which it said would pose a heavy burden for working
journalists.



5. (SBU) Al-Sherif replied that stipulating imprisonment was
still being discussed and could be amended. The Minister of
Parliamentary Affairs, Mufeed Shehab, reportedly said that
some new provisions had actually been added to the bill upon
the request of the Press Syndicate, in particular, a new
article pertaining to unlicensed papers.



6. (SBU) A point of hot debate in the journalism community

has to do with whether the liability for paying fines should
fall on journalists alone or on the organizations they work
for, or on both. One editor warned that if huge financial
penalties are imposed on Egypt,s already troubled news
organizations, they would resort to firing their journalists
to avoid having to pay the fines they incur. One critic also
warned that the heavy fines under consideration could drive
some organizations into bankruptcy, and would be ruinous for
most working journalists for whom LE 20,000 would be an
astronomic sum to pay.



7. (C) Comment: The draft bill, whose complete contents
still have not been made public, seems designed to appear to
be forward-leaning on freedom of the press issues, especially
by eliminating imprisonment for libel, a penalty that has
frequently been imposed on journalists who write articles
critical of public figures, particularly President Mubarak.
The fact that the new draft law seems to be removing that
penalty for most crimes, but preserving it for the new
"crime" of casting aspersions on the financial rectitude of
others, will discourage journalists from going after corrupt
members of the ruling elite. That, for many journalists we
have spoken with, along with the doubling of fines for almost
every other kind of infraction, diminishes the Press Law,s
appeal as a "reform measure."



8. (C) Comment continued: The draft law is still a work in
progress and the highly publicized criticisms may yet result
in more changes. The volume of media coverage and editorial
attacks on this issue demonstrates how emboldened the
Egyptian press can be when it feels its right to uncover
wrong-doing has been abridged. The coming week (prior to the
closing of the current Parliamentary session on July 15) will
witness continued vigorous debate among the press and reform
community as the proposed new press law works its way through
the legislative process. End comment.
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