Egypt is finally implementing their outrageous law for the regulation of online media publications as well as social media. The country's Supreme Media Regulation Council is reporting that, as of 21 October 2018, it has started receiving license applications from various Internet news websites.
Online publications, once approved and have paid a license fee of 50,000 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $2,700), will receive a license "allowing" them to publish and be accessible to people in Egypt. This license will be valid for 5 years, unless revoked, and is renewable.
As part of the application process, those online media publications looking to get approved for licenses need to submit information on what its editorial policy its, language of publication, organizational structure, how the website is funded, and all its URLs as well as physical addresses. This is according to Abdel Fattah El Gebaly, Secretary at Egypt's Supreme Media Regulation Council. El Gebaly also added that those websites that have not been registered will have two weeks to comply with the new law and apply for licenses while those who have been allocated license will have 6 months to get their act together and comply with the media regulation act.
Shutting up and shutting down critical online media
The draft regulation was first proposed in June 2018. At that time, two of the main reasons cited by Egypt's authorities for wanting to introduce the law were state security and the threat of fake news. However, none of these two reasons are likely why the government was so keen to pass the law.
As we have witnessed several times in Egypt and more recently, the regulation and the setting up of the Northern Afrikan country's Supreme Media Regulation Council has more to do with dictating to difficult-to-control online media what it can or cannot publish. For example, in early October 2018 the council issued a statement to all media that it cannot feature nor quote Mortada Mansour, Chairman and President of Zamalek football club, and a former presidency candidate during the 2014 presidential elections in Egypt. This came after Mansour voiced support for a rival football team's supporters (Al Ahly) as they chanted against a Saudi billionare investing in the club. Not only was Mansour banned from being featured by any media in Egypt, the TV show that featured him was also suspended for 15 days.
This is incident, like many other examples, illustrate how Egypt's Supreme Media Regulation Council is more interested in shackling freedom of speech that the publication of fake news. To enforce this law, the council also issues directives to ISPs to comply with a list of of websites that must be blocked, failing which, the companies will face heavy punishment and their officials can also be subjected to one year's imprisonment.
Another area that the council regulates based on the new law is social media in Egypt. Based on the regulation, social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers will be regulated and treated like media outlets. It is not clear whether this part of the law has been implemented yet and how (and to who) it will be implemented.
But what constitutes an online media publication that falls under the jurisdiction of Egypt's Supreme Media Regulation Council?
Will any social media account that has Egyptian followers and over 5,000 followers in total be monitored by the council?
It is quite confusing how exactly the law will be applied and without any bias. Take for instance us, iAfrikan. We cover news and many subjects coming out of Egypt, we also have readers and subscribers based in Egypt, do we now have to apply for this license?
For the record, we have asked the council for clarity on whether publications like ours, which are based outside Egypt, need to apply for a license and at the time of publishin we are yet to hear back from them.
The media regulation law stated that all media institutions and websites must not publish or broadcast fake news. This also includes any content deemed by the council to contradict the country’s constitution, and disturbs societal harmony and morals. Also intesresting is that it states that a media company’s finances should not be less than 2,5 million Egyptian Pounds (approximately $139,500), and that half of that amount must be held in an Egyptian bank.
Given all these questions and how previously Egypt's government has banned online websites of the HuffPo, New York Times, and others, it leaves me with very little doubt that the aim of this regulation is to silence and punish those online media publications that do not "falll in line."
Cover image credit: Egypt Internet cafe. Simona Scolari/Wikimedia Commons