Prepared by Mahmoud Othman, AFTE lawyer
Editor: Mohamed Abdel Salam, Director of AFTE Research Unit
First: the censorship restrictions imposed on drama:
- Artistic works: legal powers to exercise control
- Drama Committee: The High Media Council tool for the control of drama
Second: New attempts to control drama
- Do not exempt drama: a reading in penalty bylaws of the Media Council
- New regulatory restrictions: What is new in the proposal of the National Media Authority regarding control of drama works
Conclusion and Recommendations
The paper is based on the legal analysis of a set of laws and administrative decisions related to the control of dramas, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation and the National Media Authority. The paper also adopted an analysis of the proposal of director Shokri Abu Amira, head of the proposals committee in the National Media Commission on the addition of censorship caveats on dramas. The paper used several reports published by AFTE on the Drama Committee, as well as media reports on the monitoring proposal submitted to the National Media Commission.
AFTE publishes this legal paper as the new Ramadan drama season approaches, in which dramas in previous years have faced multiple surveillance interventions. The paper sheds light on new attempts to censor dramas, but prefers to review the existing censorship restrictions, which are under the jurisdiction of the agency for censorship of artistic works, in accordance with specific legal powers, as well as the intervention of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation in the censorship of dramas, through the drama committee formed by the Supreme Media, without a legal base, and remains committed to its survival. On April 6, 2019, the head of the Higher Council for Media Regulation, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, announced that actor Mohamed Subhi, who was appointed to chair the drama committee, will start his new responsibilities in forming the committee. However, two days later the council reported Sobhy’s apology to chair the committee and the appointment of MaggdaiLasheen, member of the Media council instead.
These restrictions do not appear to be sufficient for the concerned parties. This is the focus of the paper. A list of sanctions approved by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation does not exclude subsequent censorship of the dramas presented in the media, while the head of the National Media Commission proposals committee, director Shukri Abu Amira,prompted the body responsible for the state-owned media department to put new censorship on drama works.
These new and potential attempts to control the drama in a climate restricted to freedom of creativity, where the drama industry in Egypt witnessed monopoly practices through the Synergy Productionscompany, one of the Egyptian media companies that the General Intelligence sharesin its ownership. “Egyptian media” controls most of the drama productions, as well as the satellite channels it has acquired over the past two years, as well as advertising agencies.
These developments point to the increasing attempts at the siege of drama by media regulating bodies to establish roles that do not fall within the scope of their statutory powers. This comes in light of the increasing attack led by the Egyptian authorities and art trade unions on freedom of creativity and abuse of creative artists.
First: the censorship restrictions imposed on drama:
It is not possible to understand the new developments regarding censorship of dramas, without referring to the current map of censorship, whether it is legally regulated by the Control of Works of Art on the one hand, or where the Supreme Media Council has taken a role in censorship without legal support, on the other.
- Artistic works: legal powers to exercise control:
Law No. 430 of 1955 gives the Central Administration for the Supervision of Artistic Works of the Ministry of Culture the authority to supervise dramas. This department is exclusively concerned with the control of drama. Law No. 430 of 1955 and its executive regulations specify the necessary procedures for obtaining the license for the public presentation of the drama series. Article 8 of the executive regulations of the law of artistic works stipulates several caveats subject to dramas, such as:
- atheistic calls and defaming of divine religions.
- Portraying or presenting acts of vice or drug abuse in a manner that encourages the simulation of its actors.
- Exciting sex scenes that are injurious to modesty as well as obscene expressions and obscene gestures.
- The presentation of crime in a manner that arouses sympathy or change the tradition or give a halo of heroism to the offender.
There are other caveats, provided for in resolution No. 220 of 1976 on the basic rules for the control of works of art. This law carries 20 items that allow for therejection of a piece of drama, as these items are very loose, and enable censorship to make arbitrary decisions. Article 2 of Resolution 220 of 1976 states that it is not permissible to license a presentation, production or advertising of any work, for example, to justify acts of vice in a way that leads to compassion for the perpetrator or portrays it as a means of serving noble ends, or present drunkenness, consuming alcohol or drugs as a usual or plausible behaviors, or present gambling and lottery games in such a way as to encourage them to be a source of livelihood, or to expose the crimes of vengeance and revenge in a justifiable way.
However, the Central Administration of Artistic Works’ censorship of the Ramadan series had a tradition of avoiding rigidity in the application of regulatory caveats, probably due to the delay of producers in presenting drama scenarios to the committee, which tries to facilitate the production process in the most important season of the drama industry, and avoid causing heavy losses, in the case of intransigence. The censorship of works of art was allowed its indulgence with Ramadan Drama since it has the power to suspend the public display license later.
The censorship committee of the works of art has been watching the dramas for decades, but the Supreme Council of Media Regulation, which was formed in 2017, was able to acquire the authority of its drama committee, contrary to the role of the department of works of art.
- Drama Committee: Media Council Tool for the control of drama works:
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation was formed in April 2017, in accordance with the articles of the Constitution which have been in operation since 2014. The Supreme Council for Media Regulation has authorities in organizing the affairs of the press and the media, but the Council exceeded these powers through its decision to form a “Drama Committee” to censor dramas. The decision to establish the drama committee was issued in December 2017, headed by director Mohamed Fadel.
The drama committee identified what it described as the priorities of the drama show, including getting the approval of censorship of works of art in all stages of production from script writing to the final product. This came after the committee meeting, in January 2018, with the heads of channels.
Before the previous drama season of Ramadan, the drama committee set up recommendations that must be taken into consideration when writing and filming a work of drama. The committee then announced reports and recommendations of sanctions on the “black drama list,” which violated the conditions and standards and “distorted Egypt’s image abroad.” The drama committee raised more controversy when it announced a prize for every citizen reporting a series that contradicts public taste, worth 10% of the fine received by the Council from a work of drama. This has led to increased complaints and prosecutions against TV series.
However, seven months after the drama committee started working, its former chair, Mohamed Fadel, objected to the committee’s inability to impose wider sanctions. The committee submitted a collective resignation on June 25, 2018, after rejecting its request to stop the show “above the clouds”. The media council did not move to cancel the drama committee after its resignation, but nominated actor Mohamed Sobhi, known for his anti-freedom statements, to head the drama committee. The website of Cairo 24 quoted the President of the Supreme Council of Media, on 6 April 2019, announcing the start of the artist Mohamed Sobhi in the formation of the Drama Committee and the exercise of his duties as its chair, in preparation for the drama season of next Ramadan, especially since Mohamed Sobhi had previously stated that there are channels offering artistic prostitution, and Sobhiannounced that he was appointed by President Sisi to monitor channels that distort awareness.
However, two days after the statements, Mohammed al-Omari, the deputy of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, said that Mohammed Sobhi apologized from the chairmanship of the drama committee. The committee was assigned to MagdiLashin, a member of the Supreme Council of Media Regulation, who will re-establish the committee. It is expected that the drama committee will impose severe restrictions on the series, which are being prepared for next Ramadan (May 2019).
Second: New attempts to control the drama:
Not only did the regulatory bodies suffice with the regulatory limitations discussed in the first section of the paper, but there appeared to be an effort to introduce new controls. The Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media finally issued a list of sanctions, which does not exclude dramas from its articles. While the Chairman of the Proposals Committee of the National Information Authority seeks to adopt a proposal that gives the Authority the power to control dramas, which will be presented through state-owned media.
- Drama not spared: a reading in the list of sanctions of the Media Council
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation finally issued a list of sanctions and measures, including financial and administrative penalties for violators of the rules or regulations governing the work of the Supreme Media Council. The sanctions list contained vague words, which could be interpreted in various ways. It is therefore likely that the Supreme Media Council will apply these regulations to works of drama.
Article 1 of Law No. 180 of 2018 on the organization of the press and the media and the Supreme Council for Organizing the Media states that the Council’s terms of reference extend to all the media, including satellite channels. However, the Council’s jurisdiction is limited by article 70 of the same law, which limits its mandate to the press and the media, which means it has no mandate over works of drama.
In contrast to the articles of the law, article 1 of the Penal Code enshrines the supervision of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation of all media, electronic or journalistic. The wording of the article was not only limited to aspects of programs and materials outside creative works, allowing the Supreme Media Council to use the sanctions list on drama artists.
Article 2 of the sanctions regulations allows the public to file a complaint with the Supreme Media Council, which in turn refers it to one of its committees. Here, the Council may refer complaints of series to the Drama Commission, which can impose sanctions on dramas, using the terms of the sanctions regulation.
- New regulatory restrictions: What does the proposal of the National Media Commission entail for the control of drama:
The chairman of the National Media Commission’s proposals committee, director Shukri Abu Amira, suggested placing warnings on the Ramadan drama at the beginning of 2019. This proposal was discussed by some media reports, but the National Media Commission did not publish any information about it.
Law No. 178 of 2018 regulates the competence of the National Media Commission, which does not include proposing new caveats to control creativity. The law allows the panel to express its opinion in the event of a draft law relating to its work, or in relation to the proposal of media campaigns to achieve public interest. Therefore, the proposal of Shukri Abu Amira contradicts what was made available to the National Information Authority in the law regulating its work, specifically Article 5.
An article by Mahmoud Musa in Al-Ahram, published on December 12, 2018, said that director Shukri Abu Amira responded to questions about his proposal. “I have come up with a professional code, which is known to everyone since the establishment of television in 1960 and we were using it until 2010. This code aims to avoid violence and addiction and all that affects the ethics and religious discrimination and the non-appearance of a police officer or the army or high professions and national symbols, in a way that affects those characters or defames them.”
There is no information about Abu Amira’s proposal. However, there are concerns that the National Media Authority has approved these censorship precautions before the start of the Ramadan drama season. The proposal to establish a drama committee was unexpectedly submitted by a member of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation a few months later.
The proposal submitted by Abu Amira contradicts the powers referred to in the first section of the paper, which is granted to the Department of Supervision of Artistic Works. As long as the censorship authority of works of art has granted its consent to the drama show, no other party can subject the drama to subsequent censorship.
Conclusion and Recommendations
These developments raise concerns about the growing control of drama in Egypt, whether through committees and standards approved by media organizations, or through the control of the “Egyptian Media” Company for the production of drama, which limited 18 series for the show in Ramadan, including 10 series of its production. Sinereji, which owns the Egyptian media, has ordered script writers to avoid writing action scenes and scenes outside of Egypt so as to reduce production costs.
AFTE calls on individuals, artists and creative people, as well as those concerned with the protection of freedom of creativity, to combat all practices of censorship of dramas and to address the concerned parties to stop interference in dramas. In this regard, AFTE offers the following recommendations:
- The Supreme Council for Media Regulation should suspend its oversight interventions in respect of creative works, including the abolition of the Drama Committee and the non-application of the sanctions regulation list to dramas.
- The National Media Commission should reject the proposal of director Shukri Abu Amira to monitor the dramas presented in state owned media.