In the wake of Press Syndicate's elections Right to protection of reputation should be new board's priority

Press Release

31 July 2003

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) called upon the head and the member of the newly elected board of the Press Syndicate today to set among their priorities citizens' right to protection of reputation, an inseparable component of the right to privacy.

In the wake of the Press Syndicate's elections that took place yesterday, the EIPR stated that putting an end to attacks on citizens' reputations by some newspapers is not only consistent with the work for abolishing imprisonment sentences in press lawsuits, in fact, the latter cannot be practically achieved without the former.

"Violations of the right to protection of reputation through vilification, libel, slander, or invasion of privacy serve as the pretext for imprisoning journalists under current legislation," the organization said. "Until journalists and civil rights activists succeed in amending this flawed legislation to replace imprisonment sentences with financial compensation, the Press Syndicate must fulfill its role and take legal responsibility for safeguarding the right to protection of reputation to keep more journalists from going to jail."

The EIPR added that defending the right to protection of reputation is not only necessary but also achievable within the powers given to the Syndicate by law 76 of 1970 on Establishing the Press Syndicate, Press Law 96 of 1996 and the Journalistic Code of Ethics issued jointly by the Syndicate and the Higher Press Council in 1998.

The two laws clearly proscribe the role of the Syndicate's board in defending the code of ethics, which in turn repeatedly stresses the "right of all citizens to the inviolability of their private lives and human dignity" and to be free from "the exploitation of their private lives for the purpose of libel or harming their reputation." The two laws and the code of ethics also detail the procedures to be followed to discipline those who violate these principles through an investigation commission and a disciplinary body that allows appeal of its decisions.

These powers should facilitate the Syndicate's task to protect citizens from unlawful attacks on their privacy and at the same time protect journalists from facing criminal charges that will be unnecessary if plaintiffs realize that offenders will be punished for their transgressions once they are proven. This will also preserve the integrity of the press and rebuild the confidence of the readership which has been significantly tainted by mistakes that can be corrected if the Syndicate plays its desired and necessary role.

The Reports on Journalistic Practices issued by the Higher Press Council document a large number of violations by journalists of their code of ethics. Particularly alarming among those offences are violations of "crime-reporting ethics", which do not only harm the reputation of citizens and their families, but also affect the good administration of justice to a degree that can jeopardize defendants' right to fair trial. Article 23 of the Press Law stipulates that "[i]t is prohibited for a newspaper to address cases under consideration by the prosecution authorities or the judiciary in a manner that might affect the outcome of the investigation or trial or affect those involved in the process."

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Egypt in 1982, states that "[n]o one shall be subjected to ….unlawful attacks on his honor or reputation." Although the government has delegated this legal obligation to the Press Syndicate, this does not completely absolve the state of its legal responsibilities; it remains obliged to ensure the right to protection of reputation and to enable and facilitate the Syndicate's role in this regard.

"Human rights activists in Egypt have fought and will continue to fight for the right of journalists not to be imprisoned for what they write. However, journalists must themselves contribute to this battle by abiding to their Code of Ethics," the organization said today.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights hopes that the new board of the Press Syndicate will, with the support and cooperation of civil society, work towards protecting freedom of the press and at the same time the right to protection of reputation.