Over the last two weeks, a number of Egyptian newspapers and websites reportedly violated criminal, press and media laws, constitution and international agreements during their coverage of the apprehension of two young actresses and a well-known director and MP.
The two actresses were arrested after their appearance with the director in a ‘personal sex video’ taken in a house and rapidly leaked on social media and porn websites.
Prosecution renewed last week the detention of the two women for 15 days pending investigations over charges including ‘publishing pornographic content’ and ‘engaging in debauchery.’
From the first day of apprehension, some media reports included revealing the full names of the defendants, their addresses, family members, and other personal information as well as screenshots from the videos.
Some media outlets interviewed neighbours of the two women, digging further into their personal lives. Others went to interview one of the two women while she was strongly, trying while in tears, to defend her acts. The news reports came with catchy headlines and thrilling structures to ensure more views and website traffic.
On social media, the issue was trending for a while as people were divided into two viewpoints. The first criticised the two women’s acts and justified defaming them. The other expressed their sympathy with them, denouncing what they described as an “organised campaign against a political opponent,” arguing that only women pay the price of political conflicts.
Last week, the Prosecutor-General, Nabil Sadek, issued a media gag on media outlets covering the case until investigations are concluded. Sadek also requested the blocking of websites which publish or broadcast ‘indecent’ photos, videos or recordings.
Earlier, Lawyer Amr Abdel Salam filed a request of banning publishing in the same case. Salam said in his request that some media ‘violated public morality, and published personal photos, names, and addresses of suspects in a way which might harm their reputation.’
Laws, constitutional violations
Personal life is protected by local and international laws, as no one has the right to intervene in others’ personal affairs and matters inside closed houses.
Article No 20 of the Egyptian Press and Media Law bans the exposure of the private life of citizens, public servants, and public prosecutors at any broadcasting or publishing media, except for matters related to their work, and only when publishing is intended to serve the public interest.
Meanwhile, article No 21 stipulates that journalists and media are prohibited from publishing anything that could affect the stances of those who are being investigated or trialled. If media commits such act it might be banned.
According to article No 101 of the same law, editors-in-chief or managing editors who violate articles No 21, 22, shall be fined not less than EGP 50,000 and not more than EGP 100,000.
Regarding the Egyptian Criminal Code, article 309 stipulates that ‘a penalty of detention for a period not exceeding one year shall be inflicted on whoever encroaches upon the inviolability of a citizen’s private life by committing one of the following acts in other than the cases legally authorised or without the consent of the victim.’ The acts include: ‘eavesdropping, recording or transmitting via any instrument whatever its kind talks have taken place in a private place or on the telephone. The second act is to spot, transmit a picture of a person in a private place.’
The Egyptian Constitution also secures citizens’ private lives. Article 99 on ‘Violation of personal freedom’ stipulates “that any assault on the personal freedoms or sanctity of the life of citizens, along with other general rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the law, is a crime with no statute of limitations for both civil and criminal proceedings. The injured party may file a criminal suit directly.”
Furthermore, according to article No 12 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Ehab Sallam, a veteran lawyer and expert in media legislation, described some media coverage on video leaks as “crimes and violations which go against the country’s criminal laws.”
“There are several defects which not only go against media ethics or standards, but they also violate laws through publishing names, photos, and personal affairs of people under an investigation,” Sallam told Daily News Egypt.
Sallam maintained that those violations represent crimes according to the Egyptian Criminal Law, and they require punishment. “They represent offences of insult and slander and even defamation.”
Furthermore, Sallam said that articles 302,306,309 of the Criminal Law protect people’s private lives and impose penalties against whoever violates the laws.
“There is a huge cocktail of violations in the media’s coverage of the issue. However, it is just a reflection of our reality regarding the media standards and legal controls,” Sallam noted.
Moreover, Sallam maintained that media institutions are familiar with all the aforementioned laws, however, violations have not stopped. “It became a normalised act. There is no journalist or media institution that does not know those laws and ethics. Instead, there is a kind of ‘flaunting’ that no one will punish them if they commit such acts.”
Meanwhile, Sallam noted that ‘digging’ this far into private affairs of the defendants only suggests that there is “a negative deliberate intention,” aimed to “defame” and hurt the suspects or their families.
Additionally, Sallam maintained that no one has the right to judge other people, especially if they are subjected to investigations. “Interviewing neighbours and publishing photos of family members of the two women only included new parties in the case,” Sallam said, adding that suspects and their families have the right to file a lawsuit against whoever published their personal affairs. “What is the sister’s fault? brother or parent to be featured in a case they have nothing to do with? Nothing!” Sallam exclaimed.
On the other hand, Yasser Abdel-Aziz, a media expert, agreed that the video circulated on the internet contains personal acts. He said that rules allow publishing the case in the media if it proved that a public figure or servant was involved in the acts because in this case, private life would intersect with the public interest. This shall exclude publishing ‘pornographic’ scenes, he informed DNE.
Abdel-Aziz added that media, in such cases, should not expand in the suspects’ details, and only point out the details of the case and investigation.
Furthermore, Abdel-Aziz maintained the need to protect the privacy of ordinary people involved in such cases. “Such violation for their personal life by publishing their photos and names has no justification, as it does not affect the public interest.”
Therefore, Abdel-Aziz said that the prosecution’s media gag is a right decision and the media must commit to it.
Has nothing to do with journalism
Laila Abdel-Meguid, mass communication professor at Cairo University, said that she opposed covering such cases because they are connected to private life.
Abdel-Meguid asserted that the media has to focus on covering the investigation, and not go into personal details. “We have nothing to do with personal details. Publishing such information will only affect the investigations and will harm the lives of people involved in the case,” Abdel-Meguid told DNE.
Abdel-Meguid mentioned that similar cases took place in the past and defendants were proved not to be guilty, however, the media at that time did not stop publishing in a way that affected them. “This has nothing to do with journalism, and goes against human rights and morals,” Abdel-Meguid said.
“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty,” Abdel-Meguid said. “This requires avoiding publishing personal details including the names until there is a final court rule.”