Freedom of expression project


The press in Egyptian legislation

Part III: National newspapers


Chapter 1

Ownership

94

Article 22, Law on Press Authority: The term 'national newspapers' shall in the application of the provisions of this Law mean newspapers published currently or in the future by press establishments which have been owned or partially owned by the Arab Socialist Union, the Middle East News Agency, the National Company for Distribution, Uktubir magazine, and newspapers issued by press establishments created by the Shura Council.

National press establishments shall be considered the property of the state and the Shura Council shall exercise ownership rights over national press establishments.

Comments:

1) Egypt and a few other states are unique in this form of newspaper ownership, known as national newspapers. National newspapers have considerable weight in the press industry in Egypt with regard to size, number of staff, and their influence on public opinion. In essence these newspapers are governmental. The law should prohibit the government from establishing further press establishments other than those currently in existence. This Article allows the Shura Council to establish more press establishments. The wording of this Article should be more carefully defined so as to stop the proliferation of these strange forms of newspaper ownership.

The law should allow national newspapers to be truly 'national,' by granting them full independence of the executive authority and all political parties, and giving all political parties equal access to national newspapers as a forum for demonstrating their views. Editors should also be independent.

This requires the transfer of ownership of national newspapers from the Shura Council to a joint stock company, where 51 percent of shares are held by the company and the rest by the company employees.

The law drafted by the Press Codification Committee stated in regard to this matter that:

'A national press establishment is owned by the people. The Shura Council holds 51 percent of establishment capital and affiliates, and establishment employees hold 49 percent. Half the net profits shall be allocated to establishment employees and the other half shall be allocated for expansion and renovation projects.

2) The Second General Conference of Journalists recommended that national newspapers should 'be a forum for national dialogue and the mouthpiece of public consensus, while reinforcing social unity and reflecting current dialogue between different political forces."

3) The CHRLA workshop suggests that employees should hold 51 percent of a press establishment's capital and the other 49 percent should be offered for public subscription.

4) In 1975, the Higher Press Council drew up a bill for a unified press law which included several articles on transforming newspapers owned by the Arab Socialist Union into joint stock companies, where 51 percent of shares would be owned by the ASU and 49 percent by employees. These articles could be a useful framework for bringing about such a transformation in ownership.

The provisions included the following interim procedures:

Press establishments owned by the Arab Socialist Union shall, within one year of the date of this law coming into effect, become joint stock companies, where 51 percent of company shares shall be held by the Arab Socialist Union and 49 percent of shares by company employees.

The Arab Socialist Union shall have sole responsibility for the incorporation of the said companies and the legal procedures necessary for this purpose, in accordance with Law no. 60/71 on public institutions and public sector companies.

The valuation of the capital of press establishments shall be governed by the law in force and shall be conducted by one committee or more to be constituted by ASU decree. The committee shall be chaired by the justice of a judicial body, and at least two committee members shall be from among the establishment's employees. All committee decisions shall be final.

The number of a company's shares and the value of the company's shares on issuing shall be set by a decree of the first secretary of the Arab Socialist Union based on the results of valuation.

This draft law also included the following articles concerning joint ownership of a press company by the state and national newspaper employees:

Each newspaper company shall have a statute that conforms with the forms and conditions included in the decree issued by the minister of finance upon approval by the Higher Press Council.

The shares of the company shall be nominal and the distribution of company shares to company employees shall be in accordance with the company statute, which should indicate the maximum number of shares allowed per employee. Shareholder employees may be allowed to pay for shares acquired in monthly installments over a period not exceeding twelve months.

Shareholder employees may not dispose of their shares either by sale, assignment to others, or mortgage. These shares may not be sequestrated nor used as way of settlement of a debt owed by the shareholder employee.

On termination of service, an employee's ownership of company shares shall terminate and the employee shall receive the nominal value of the shares owned. Shares shall be allotted to company employees in accordance with the company statute, provided that priority is given to employees who do not hold shares in the company in accordance with the rules established regulating such priority.

95

Article 23, Law on Press Authority: The relationship between national press establishments and all their employees, including journalists, administrative staff, and laborers shall be governed by individual employment contracts. Employees of national press establishments may where in the interest of work be transferred from one establishment to another by decree of the Higher Press Council, provided that the opinion of both establishments concerned shall be taken into consideration and transfer takes place to a position of the same nature and with the same salary as that previously occupied by the transferee.

Comments:

1) It may be noted that this Article does not state that an individual employment contract shall govern the relationship between non-national press establishments and their employees, though this is understood from the Law on Individual Employment Contracts (Law no. 137/81 and its amendments).

2) It may also be noted that national and non-national press establishments do not conclude employment contracts with journalists, but issue 'appointment decrees."

3) Articles 104 and 105, Law on the Journalists' Syndicate state that, 'Without prejudice to the rights stated above, an employment contract shall be concluded, under the provisions of this Law, between the journalist and the press establishment, newspaper owner, or representative. Such contract shall specify time period of contract, unless the contract has no specific time period, type and place of employment, and detailed breakdown of salary." Article 113 of the same Law makes it imperative that an employment contract between a journalist and a press establishment, newspaper owner, or news agency includes all complementary benefits agreed upon by both parties. The Article also permits journalists to make special agreements with owners of newspapers and news agencies and allows owners of newspapers and news agencies to make agreements with the Journalists' Syndicate which involve better employment conditions for journalists than those stated in this Law. All press establishments and newspaper owners or their representatives should inform the Board of the Journalists' Syndicate of employment conditions and each agreement made with a member of the Syndicate. Employers should also notify the Syndicate board of any change in employment conditions, and the board may ask the newspaper owner or news agency to amend any conditions it considers to be unfair to journalists. The Article provides for the creation of a committee, which is described in detail in the Article, responsible for taking a final decision in cases where the newspaper owner does not respond to the opinion of the Syndicate board.

4) It may be useful to add the following phrase to the first paragraph of this Article: 'Provided that Articles 104, 105, and 113 of the Law on the Journalists' Syndicate shall be taken into consideration."

5) The Second General Conference of Journalists recommended that no journalist shall be referred to the tripartite committee until the Syndicate board is informed in writing of the reasons for the referral and given the opportunity to attempt to reconcile the journalist and employer. The Journalists' Syndicate should agree with the General Syndicate of Press, Printing, and Publication Workers that the third party in the tripartite committee should be a member of the Journalists' Syndicate board. This recommendation needs to be codified.

6) It is extremely important to amend the text of the second paragraph of this Article by replacing the phrase, 'where in the interest of work' with, 'upon the written consent of the journalist." In all cases, no journalist may be transferred to a non-press establishment or non-journalist employment except upon his/her written consent.

7) The workshop recommends that a collective employment contract is concluded between the Journalists' Syndicate and press establishments (national/ private/ partisan) in order to safeguard the rights and interests of journalists. Such contracts should include the right to resign on grounds of conscience and allow the Syndicate to intervene effectively in employer–employee relationships and carry out collective bargaining.

96

Article 24, Law on Press Authority: Half the net profits of a national press establishment shall be allocated to employees and the other half to the expansion, renovation of the establishment and other projects. The Higher Press Council shall issue resolutions and guidelines regulating the administration, development of annual budget, and profit distribution method of the press establishments. The Central Auditing Agency shall conduct a regular examination of the accounts and documents of national press establishments to verify the validity and legality of financial, administrative, and legal procedures of same establishments. The establishment shall be responsible for facilitating the conduct of such audit by said Agency. The Agency shall prepare a report on audit findings and submit such to the Shura Council, the Higher Press Council, and the General Assembly.

Comments:

1) Except for the first paragraph, this Article should be reworded in line with Article 22/2. Where continued ownership of newspapers by the Shura Council is approved, then these paragraphs can be retained. However, if press establishments are transformed into joint stock companies owned by the state and employees, or shareholders and employees, then the terms and conditions stated in the Law on Companies concerning the auditing of accounts should govern these establishments. Furthermore, the jurisdiction of the Higher Press Council should be revised in line with the agreed mandate of the body—whether as an administrator on behalf of the owner of national newspapers, or as a council with moral powers, representing public opinion and safeguarding professional ethics?

97

Article 25, Law on Press Authority: Each national press establishment shall be an artificial person and be eligible to undertake all legal acts to achieve own purposes, and be represented by the chair of the board of directors.

98

Article 26, Law on Press Authority: A national press establishment may, upon the approval of the Higher Press Council, establish companies to handle own publication, advertising, printing, or distribution activities. The Higher Press Council shall lay down rules to regulate the incorporation of such companies.

Comments:

1) Reference to the powers of the Higher Press Council in this Article should be reconsidered in line with the agreed mandate of the body.

99

Article 27, Law on Press Authority: The affairs of personnel employed by a national press establishment shall be governed by the provisions of Law no. 62/1975 on Illicit Gain. A national press establishment may operate export, import, and commercial agency activities in accordance with the rules set by the Higher Press Council.

Comments:

1) See previous comment.

100

Article 28, Law on Press Authority: The retirement age for national press establishment employees, including journalists, administrators, and laborers shall be sixty years. However, the Higher Press Council may, upon a recommendation from the board of the establishment in question, extend that age, year by year, up to sixty five years old.

Comments:

1) The majority of journalists are in favor of the repeal of this Article and granting journalists the absolute right to continue working, as long as s/he is able to do so, provided that the journalist can request retirement with pension at the age of sixty.

2) The Second General Conference of Journalists recommended the postponement of the retirement age to sixty five years, provided that journalists are not allowed to hold the positions of chair or editor-in-chief as well as member on either board beyond the age of sixty. This same stipulation was included in this Article before it was amended at the beginning of 1995. Young journalists feel that if journalists are allowed to hold senior management positions in national newspapers up to the age of sixty five, this stops younger journalists from holding these positions.

General Assembly

101

Article 29, Law on Press Authority: The general assembly of national press establishments shall be constituted of 35 members in the following manner:

i) Fifteen members shall represent the press establishment journalists, administrators, and laborers. Their election shall be by way of direct secret ballot. As a prerequisite, each member shall have at least five years experience in press work. Each of the three groups mentioned above shall elect five members from own group.

ii) Twenty members shall be selected by the Shura Council from among writers or those concerned with the affairs of thought, culture, press, and media, provided that at least four of them shall be from that press establishment.

Elections, as well as selection, shall take place every four years. The Higher Press council shall lay down rules to regulate the electoral process, the conditions whereby convening the General Assembly is valid, and the system of decision-making.

Comments:

1) The draft law submitted by the Press Codification Committee in 1981 provided for equality between the votes of workers' representatives and those of owner representatives in the general assembly. It read: 'The general assembly of a national press establishment shall consist of 42 members, including 17 representing social ownership. The Shura Council shall select 10 members as representatives to the general assembly, and they shall be joined by the 7 members appointed to the board of directors. Each shall have 3 votes at the time of voting in the general assembly. The Syndicate committee in the establishment shall have the right to select one general assembly member, who shall hold one vote. Whoever nominates self for the elections to the general assembly, to take place every four years, shall have spent at least five years as an employee in the same establishment. The Higher Press Council shall lay down rules regulating the conduct of elections." Both the owner and workers enjoy an equal share of votes, that is, 51 votes each. However, the present text confers the majority of votes in the general assembly to the owner. If national newspapers are turned into joint stock companies or if workers are allowed to become shareholders, this Article should be amended in accordance with the Law on Joint Stock Companies.

102

Article 30, Law on Press Authority: The general assembly of a national press establishment shall have competence to perform the following functions:

i) Approval of the estimated budget and the closing account.

ii) Appointment and assignment of auditors.

iii) Approval of the establishment's economic and financial policy and consideration of new projects or liquidation of existing ones, based on the annual report submitted by the board of directors.

iv) Approval of statute on wages and other matters drawn by the board of directors, provided that the rules governing the minimum wage limit set by the Higher Press Council, are adhered to.

v) Review of matters brought by the board of directors.

vi) Submitting a proposal to the Higher Press Council to dissolve the board of directors in the event of breach of duties.

One third of general assembly members may request the inclusion of a particular topic on the agenda to be tabled for discussion during the next meeting. Likewise, one third of the members of the general assembly or the newspaper board may call for an emergency general assembly meeting.

Comments:

1) The Second General Conference of Journalists recommended that the general assembly should take place every six months. It also called for increasing the percentage of employees in the general assembly and on the board of directors to 50 per cent. The budgets of press establishments should be published.

2) Article 24, Law on Press Authority, last paragraph, states that the Central Auditing Agency should present a copy of its audit reports to the general assembly, the Shura Council, and the Higher Press Council, but it does not provide for the right of the general assembly to discuss these or call the board of directors to account for their contents.

3) The draft law formulated by the Press Codification Committee granted the general assembly the right to select two editors to the editorial board.

Chapter 3

Boards of Directors and Editorial Boards

103

Article 31, Law on Press Authority: The board of directors of a national press establishment shall be constituted of 15 members in the following manner:

1) The chair to be selected by the Shura Council.

2) Six members from among establishment employees to be elected by direct secret ballot, provided that journalists, administrators, and laborers shall each elect two members from own group.

3) Eight members to be elected by the Shura Council, provided that they include at least four employees of the press establishment.

Board membership term shall be for four renewable years. The absolute majority of members of the board of directors shall be present in order for the board meeting to be valid. Decisions shall be taken by a majority of those present and, in the event of a tie, the chair shall hold the casting vote. No person may simultaneously serve as a board member in more than one press establishment.

Comments:

1) The Second General Conference of Journalists recommended that the percentage of employees serving as members on the board of directors should be raised to 50 per cent. The draft law of the Press Codification Committee stipulated that the board of directors should be made up of 13 members, seven of whom nominated by the Shura Council, of which four at least should be from the press establishment, and the remaining 6 to be elected by the general assembly from among its members.

2) The Second General Conference of Journalists recommended the reintroduction of the position of elected managing director.

104

Article 32, Law on Press Authority: In each national newspaper, an editorial board shall be constituted of 5 members at least, under the chair of the editor-in-chief selected by the Shura Council. The other four members shall be selected by the board of directors, including the person ranking second to the editor-in-chief as far as responsibility for press work is concerned. The editorial board membership term shall be three renewable years.

Comments:

1) The Second General Conference of Journalists recommended the introduction of a system whereby editors can participate in the selection of the editor-in-chief. One suggestion made to this effect was that the owner, based on certain conditions, nominates three journalists from the establishment for the post of editor-in-chief, one of which is selected by the editors.

2) The draft law developed by the Press Codification Committee stipulated that the editorial board should include two editors selected by the general assembly, and not the board of directors alone.

105

Article 33, Law on Press Authority: The executive regulations implementing this Law shall regulate the manner and procedures of selection of the chair and editor-in-chief.

Comments:

1) These regulations do not actually regulate the manner and procedures of selection of the chair and editor-in-chief, since this is within the jurisdiction of the Shura Council, in its capacity as the owner (see Article 31/1, Law on Press Authority, and Article 32, same Law). See also previous comment, no. 1.

106

Article 34, Law on Press Authority: The editorial board shall formulate the general editorial policy and follow up implementation within the framework of the general policy set by the board of directors for the establishment. The implementation of this policy shall be the responsibility of the editor-in-chief and assistants.


Introduction | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

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