Invalid: The decision of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation to ban publishing about Hospital 57357 is illegal

Cairo 5 July, 2018

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said today that the Supreme Council for Media Regulation should play its constitutional role in guaranteeing and protecting freedom of the press and the media, maintaining its neutrality, impartiality, pluralism and diversity, put an end to censorship practices and cracking down on media institutions and media platforms, the last of which was placing a gag order on publishing or broadcasting anything about Hospital 57357.

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation headed by journalist Makram Mohammed Ahmed issued yesterday a decision banning publishing anything about Hospital 57357 demanding all parties to stop writing about the “topic” and stop broadcasting any audiovisual programs about it until the ministerial committee finishes its investigations and announce the results. The decision came after author and the screenwriter Wahid Hamid wrote a series of articles in Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, in which he highlighted suspicions of irregularities and corruption in the hospital and accused the Executive Director of the hospital Dr. Sherif Abu Al-Naga of squandering public money and mishandling funds for financing the Ramadan series “The Red Ribbon” awarding its author about 6 million Egyptian pounds, shooting scenes inside the hospital and other practices. This caused a huge controversy in public opinion, especially as it is one of the most prominent hospitals receiving donations both from inside Egypt and from abroad.

It should be noted that there is no legal difference between a gag order and the prohibition or ban of publishing; both of them mean the not publishing or commenting on a certain topic, and both are under the authority of the Public Prosecutor and the competent courts only, so the council and its head ought to have suggested this as their “opinion” not to publish about that topic, and not as their “decision”, and let those who agree with them follow their opinion, and those who don’t are free to disagree with their opinion.

ANHRI said “The decision constitutes a flagrant violation of the law, which makes it illegitimate and subject to being challenged before the administrative judiciary. Moreover, the decision flagrantly violates the constitution’s provisions that promote freedom of opinion, thought and expression, guarantees of freedom of the press and exchange of information and the fundamental rights enshrined in the international covenants and treaties signed by Egypt”.

ANHRI calls on the Supreme Council fro Media Regulation to stop playing the role of the censor against freedom of the press, to correct the wording of this decision into an “opinion” and a point of view, and to distance itself from issuing such flawed decisions that violate the principles of freedom of expression and the right to exchange information, to play the role it is supposed to have in promoting freedom of the press and the independence of press institutions, which the Constitution stipulates that it is the State’s obligation to guarantee, to ensure that these institutions are impartial and express all political and intellectual views and trends.