8 - 14 June 2000
Issue No. 485
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Free and responsibleBy Osama El-Ghazali Harb *
When the government suspended publication of Al-Shaab, advocates of democracy in Egypt, already anxious, grew even more fearful. Whatever the offences committed by the newspaper, halting its publication by an administrative decree is in itself a violation of press freedom. True, the newspaper used religion to violate the right to innovation and creativity, and incited the public to use violence against writers and literary figures; but the government could have reacted through recourse to the rule of law, and by bringing the newspaper to justice. Instead, it took the easy way out, and undermined democratic principles through arbitrary measures. Several aspects connected with this issue deserve special attention.
Given that the freedom of the press means its independence, can we consider a newspaper that serves as the mouthpiece of a political party "independent?" To be favourable to the ideas of a political party is one thing, and to be owned by the party quite another; in the second case, all published material, whether news items or analyses of events, is necessarily coloured by the party's ideology.
Freedom of the press implies responsibility, and self-organisation. Had the Press Syndicate and the Supreme Press Council fulfilled their duty in addressing Al-Shaab's violations of the freedom of thought and its virulent attacks on several public figures, press freedom would have been safeguarded and the problem would never have been as serious as it is today.
Had there been a general consensus on political and cultural issues, the democratic environment would have been capable of accommodating extremist or non-conformist views expressed by some newspaper. Given the absence of such consensus, fear of extremist trends, however marginal these may be, seems entirely justified.
* This week's Soapbox speaker is editor-in-chief of Al-Siyasa Al-Dawliya (International Politics) jouranl issued by Al-Ahram, and a member of the Press Syndicate Council.