Under the new law, which the authorities began implementing on 23 October, online newspapers will now have to apply to register. Getting a permit seems impossible for sites already blocked by the government. In the event that they do get a permit, there is no guarantee that they would unblocked.
Articles 34 and 36 of the new law fix the sum that media outlets must deposit in a bank account, depending on the type of media. In all, applying for a media permit will cost 660,000 Egyptian pounds (33,000 euros). A deposit of 50,000 pounds (2,450 euros) is needed just to start the application process. This is a large sum in Egypt, much more than independent websites can afford.
According to the information gathered by RSF, news websites are being given very little time to apply and face the possibility of heavy fines – between 1 million and 3 million pounds (50,000 and 150,000 euros) if they fail to comply. The news website Masryat has already decided to suspend operations while it studies its legal options, in order to avoid being exposed to the possibility of an exorbitant fine.
“This law is tantamount to extortion, because journalists now have to pay if they want to work,” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The implementation of this very coercive media law has a clear political objective – to silence the last independent voices. We are facing the probable extinction or exile of Egypt’s last independent media.”
The new media law has other articles designed to restrict the flow of news and information online. Under article 19, any personal website, blog or social network account with more than 5,000 followers will be regarded as a media outlet and therefore liable to surveillance by the authorities. And the Supreme Council for Media Regulation now has the power to block or suspend personal accounts if it decides that they are “publishing or broadcasting fake news.”
Independent journalism is dying in Egypt and readers can barely access it online anyway because several hundred websites have been blocked since last year. With at least 38 professional and non-professional journalists currently held in connection with their reporting, Egypt is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.