Q&A: Interview with politician Ahmed al-Tantawy removed from Facebook after a report from Channel One TV

Date : Thursday, 7 July, 2022
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On 11 July, Al-Manassa website announced that it had received a notice from the Facebook administration stating that Channel One had retracted its claim of ownership of the right to broadcast the video clip that caused Facebook to block Ahmed al-Tantawy’s interview published on the website’s page. Accordingly, the block on the interview was lifted.

AFTE appreciates the channel’s retraction from pursuing Tantawy’s interview under allegations that violate the law and journalistic norms in dealing with presidential speeches, in a move that was the first of its kind.

What happened?

On 10 June 2022, Al-Manassa, one of the few privately-owned news websites that still operate from inside Egypt despite restrictions of blocking and security prosecution, published a video interview with former MP and current head of the Karama Party Ahmed al-Tantawy. The interview tackled several topics, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for a national dialogue, the governing economic policies, and the president’s promises of political reform.

Two days after the interview was released, Al-Manassa said in a Facebook statement[1] that it had submitted three complaints against the state-owned Channel One TV to the National Media Authority (NMA), the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR), and the Presidency of the Republic. The move came after the Facebook administration removed the interview following a report submitted by Channel One TV accused the platform of using content owned by the channel without obtaining permission to publish it.

The intended content is a 24-second clip of President Sisi’s speech during a Ramadan breakfast party with the “Egyptian Family” gathering (a presidential social initiative aimed to boost dialogue among various segments of society) on 26 April. The clip was taken from the Presidency’s YouTube channel.

Channel One’s complaint is unique, as the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has not spotted any similar incidents over the past years.

AFTE voices its solidarity with the Al-Manassa website and affirms that the measure taken by Channel One TV has flagrantly violated the right to freedom of the press and media as well as the constitution and the law. It warns that this is a new practice for clamping down on independent news websites that suffer from blocking, security intimidation, and intransigence in obtaining certificates to regularize their status.

In this paper, we are trying to clarify the violation committed by the Egyptian TV station and how it violated the law and the journalistic norms related to the speeches of the president and government officials in general.

 

First: Why did the Facebook administration respond to Channel One’s complaint?

 

Nora Younis, the editor-in-chief of Al-Manassa website, said to AFTE: “We do not know how Facebook accepted the Channel One’s complaint, even though the material was taken from the Presidency’s YouTube channel, with the Presidency’s logo on it.”

“Technically, Channel One may have uploaded the president’s speech and claimed ownership of it, but we are not sure about that,” she added.

According to Facebook’s copyright policy[2]: “It’s generally a good idea to get written permission from the author of the work before posting content on Facebook. You might be able to use someone else’s content on Facebook if you’ve received permission from them, for example by obtaining a licence. You may also be able to use someone else’s content if it’s in the public domain, is covered by fair use or there is another exception to copyright.”

The conditions of fair use, as a governing principle for cases where someone else’s work may be used without infringement, include the amount and substance of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole:

The use of small portions of a copyrighted work is more likely to be fair use than copying an entire work. But even if only a small portion is used, it is less likely to be fair use if that portion used is the most important piece – the “heart” of the work.

The application of exceptions and limitations to copyright may vary from country to country. Generally, in countries that rely on exceptions and limitations, the use of copyrighted works should not unreasonably harm the rights holder’s interests.

In the EU, each member state must ensure that users are able to rely on the following exceptions when making content available: quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody or pastiche.

 

Second: Who owns the copyright of presidential speeches according to the law?

“Without prejudice to the moral rights of the author under this law, the author or his successor may not prevent newspapers, periodicals or broadcasting organizations, inasmuch as justified by their aims, from doing the following:

First: Publishing speeches, lectures, seminars or statements delivered in public sessions of the parliament, legislative or administrative bodies or scientific, literary, artistic, political, social or religious meetings, including statements delivered during public court proceedings. However, the author alone or his successor shall have the right to make collections of such works, for which he shall be entitled to claim authorship.

Second: Publication of extracts of an audio, visual or audiovisual work made available to the public in the course of covering current events.”

Article 172 of Law No. 82 of 2002 on the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights stipulated the limits of intellectual property and regulated the process of quoting content issued by official bodies. The law excluded some of the published material from protection and allowed its publication or quoting from it in the course of covering current events. The law also allowed the publication of speeches, lectures, seminars or statements delivered in public sessions of the parliament, legislative or administrative bodies or scientific, literary, artistic, political, social or religious meetings, which fully applies to the content published by Al-Manassa website in its interview with Tantawy. The website used a video clip from a public conference attended by the President of the Republic. The clip was taken from the Presidency’s official YouTube channel, with the Presidency’s logo on it, which is a reference to the source.

 

Third: How do press organizations deal with media material related to political speeches?

In the past days, there has been a deliberate confusion between the state television’s ownership of some media materials related to political speeches, especially those of the President of the Republic, and the right to republish excerpts from these materials without permission, with only reference to the source, whether the Presidency’s logo or the state TV’s name.

Tamer Ezz El-Din of France 24 TV said to AFTE: “As for the material related to the president, which comes from the state television, we indeed refer to the state TV as a source of that material, and the same applies to the material coming from the Presidency’s website.

It is known that the copyrighted material is that owned by subscription TV channels and it is prohibited to use it, while the material of state channels, which are open sources, is usually used with reference to the source. Copyrighted material also includes, among others, football matches and artistic content, which are exclusively owned by certain bodies.

As for official speeches, this is well known, and Egyptian channels, for example, use speeches of heads of other states from their main sources with their own logos, with reference to the source.”

The editor-in-chief of Cairo 24 website, Tamer Ibrahim, echoed the same opinion, noting that the republishing of media material available on the various official platforms of the Presidency of the Republic, such as YouTube, is treated easily and smoothly. We did not face any problem regarding this, as this material is available for everyone without intellectual property rights for any party.

He said his website treats the republishing of media material owned by others with extreme caution due to the Facebook’s copyright policy. This applies to the use of excerpts from material owned by the state television.

In the same vein, Nora Younis said: “We usually try to avoid the president’s speeches, because several years ago the account of the admin of Al-Manassa’s Facebook page was closed due to the use of a short video of the president’s speech, but it was quoted from the CBC channel. Because of this incident, we have become more careful.”

By reviewing Tantawy’s interview, AFTE found out that the clip in question was tagged with the Presidency’s logo and not that of Channel One. According to Law No. 82 of 2002 on the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights and also the established professional norms, these materials are openly available to everyone without rights.

 

Fourth: Why did Channel One track Tantawy’s interview and report it?

In view of the legality and safety of Al-Manassa’s use of the clip in question and the statements of a number of journalists working for different news websites, it has become evident that material from official bodies was previously used without any complaints from the state television on the pretext of publishing public political speeches owned by it. This raises a question as to why the state television moved to delete Tantawy’s interview from Facebook. In this regard, AFTE suggests that the real target of the move was the content of the interview in the first place, as well as the interviewee himself. The move also targeted the independent website Al-Manassa, which decided to break the media stalemate by conducting a bold political interview with an opposition politician who can be described as “unacceptable”.

Channel One has illegally tracked media content published on a social media platform. The clip used in Tantawy’s interview was not taken from the state television or tagged with the logo of any of its channels. This confirms that the content of the interview was the direct target behind the Channel One’s move. This is also confirmed by the fact that the researcher who prepared this paper did not find similar previous incidents in which the state television took measures against a media platform for the same reason.

Before his interview with Al-Manassa, Tantawy gave an interview to the BBC Arabic in May[3], in which he criticized President Sisi and his policies. Asked about what the authorities can do, Tantawy told the BBC that the most important thing the current regime can do is to become a former regime, especially as President Sisi’s term in office would end in 2022 unless the constitution was amended in 2019 to allow him to run for presidency until 2030.

This confirms that Channel One’s move targeted Tantawy himself and his remarks in which he criticized the government policies, specifically the water and food security policies, as well as his criticism of the state budget and the government’s economic vision announced by the prime minister in a press conference last May.

It seems that the state television used the protection of intellectual property rights as a formal excuse and a legal cover in its move against Tantawy’s interview. However, ignorance of the law caused the state television to commit a new violation of the right to freedom of the press and media.

Finally, AFTE reiterates its full solidarity with Al-Manassa website and calls on the state television to stop pursuing independent news websites under the pretext of protecting content owned by it. It also warns against repeating this pattern of violation, which increases restrictions and abuses against the independent press in Egypt and also contradicts the government’s declared move to change its policy towards rights and freedoms.

[1] Al-Manassa takes action against Channel One over president's speech, Al-Manassa’s Facebook page, 12 June 2022, last visited on 3 July 2022, shorturl.at/jrGPU

[2] Facebook’s copyright policy, https://bit.ly/2HbgMYb

[3] Egypt MeanTime: Interview with Ahmed Tantawy, head of the Karama Party, over the Egyptian president’s call for political dialogue, BBC Arabic on YouTube, 12 May 2022, last visited on 5 July 2022, https://bit.ly/3uv1asl
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