Same old story
In seeking to impose its choice of editors-in-chief on national newspapers the Muslim Brotherhood is replicating the tactics of the once all powerful NDP, writes Reem Leila
An emergency meeting held at the Press Syndicate on 7 July in an attempt to end the stand-off between journalists and the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, which recently announced its intention to replace the editors-in-chief of state-run newspapers, ended without making progress.
Around 250 journalists presented their papers to the Shura Council in a bid to fill any vacant posts. At least half of the state-owned press's existing heads are seeking reappointment.
During the emergency meeting some members of the Press Syndicate council tabled a request to discuss the Shura Council's "aggression" against freedom of the press and attempts to Islamicise national newspapers.
Council member Alaa El-Attar stressed that the timing of the Shura council's intervention was wholly political.
"The Muslim Brotherhood wants to impose its control over the press and media in general. They want to prevent any criticism of either the Brotherhood or the newly elected president, Mohamed Mursi, a veteran member of the organisation."
"It is no coincidence that the Shura Council's request for nominations coincided with a series of lawsuits filed with the administrative court which seek to dissolve the Shura Council on the same grounds that the People's Assembly was dissolved last month," said El-Attar. The Brotherhood is seeking to impose its control over national newspapers while it can.
Syndicate Chairman Mamdouh El-Wali excused himself from the meeting. The reason given was that he was engaged in telephone negotiations with Shura Council Speaker Ahmed Fahmi over the composition of the 14-member committee responsible for screening potential editors-in-chief. The committee currently comprises six Shura Council members, four veteran journalists and four professors of mass communication. El-Attar subsequently indicated that Fahmi had agreed to discuss membership of the committee any time after 10 July.
"Given that the window for nominations closed on 9 July, the date renders subsequent negotiations pointless," said El-Attar.
Hundreds of journalists protested in front of Al-Ahram building on Sunday before marching to the Shura Council.
Meanwhile, syndicate council member Gamal Fahmi has filed a petition with the Administrative Court contesting the mechanism adopted by the Shura Council to select future editors-in-chief. The committee responsible for screening applicants should, he argues, comprise veteran journalists rather than Shura members.
However, on 10 July, the Administrative Court refused the lawsuit filed by syndicate members against suspending the Shura Council's decision that set the criteria of choosing editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers.
"We need full independence from the Shura Council which has dominated the activities of the press for far too long. Journalists must not be kept in thrall to the ruling party," said Fahmi.
Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi declared his support for journalists in their struggle for greater press freedom and independence from the Shura Council. "I demand the postponement of this decision until a new constitution is issued determining the Shura Council's future role vis-Ã-vis the press and national newspapers," Sabahi wrote on his Facebook page. "It's time to loosen the government's grip on the press and national newspapers."
Syndicate council member Khaled El-Meri believes that the Muslim Brotherhood faces a stark choice. Either it can attempt to replicate the kind of control over the press exercised by Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) via the Shura Council, or it can respect the goals of the revolution and foster greater press freedom. Opting for the former, warns El-Meri, is to court the same fate that befell the NDP.
"It was the Mubarak regime that afforded the Shura Council the power to handpick editors-in-chief. It is shameful to follow the same course after the revolution," said El-Meri.
The real battle is not between journalists and the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Shura Council, but is a fight for freedom of expression, he added.