Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Press polls at risk

A court ruling next week will determine whether or not mid-term elections at the Press Syndicate will go ahead, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Administrative Court will give its verdict regarding the fate of the Press Syndicate’s mid-term elections on 1 March, just five days before the scheduled vote on March 6.

The ruling comes in response to a case filed by journalist Ashraf Fahmi. He and several other journalists have called for the mid-term elections to be cancelled.

The elections are to elect six of the 12 syndicate board members, along with the chairman. Fahmi contends that the elections should be for all 12 seats on the board.

“What is requested in the case is contrary to the bylaws of the Press Syndicate. I doubt that the court ruling will alter the electoral process,” Diaa Rashwan, the Press Syndicate chairman, who will run for another term in office, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Even if the court ruling is against holding the mid-term elections, I believe it will not change anything regarding the elections of the syndicate’s chairman since the case is about the number of the board members included in the electoral process,” Rashwan said.

According to Article 43 of the syndicate’s bylaws, membership of the syndicate’s board is for four years, but the membership of half of its members expires every two years, giving rise to mid-term elections.

Six journalists have submitted their candidacies for the post of syndicate chair. They include Rashwan, director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies; Yehia Qallash of Al-Gomhouria; Sayed Al-Askandrani, also of Al-Gomhouria; Tarek Darwish of Al-Ahrar; Mohamed Maghrabi of Al-Shaab and Talaat Hashim of Misr Al-Fatah.

The two key candidates for the syndicate’s top position are Rashwan and Qallash, both of whom work for the country’s largest national newspapers. A further 52 journalists have put forward their names for the six vacant seats on the board.

The current board, elected in March 2013, has been criticised by some journalists for what they consider its failure to defend the profession’s independence. Egypt was listed among the world’s biggest jailers of journalists last year by the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international body.

In its annual roundup, the international group Reporters Without Borders said that between December 2013 and December 2014, 46 journalists were arrested in Egypt. It added that 16 journalists are still imprisoned in Egypt, representing nine per cent of all professional journalists imprisoned worldwide.

Egypt ranked 159th of the 180 listed countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

“The syndicate’s work is in resuscitation. Almost all the younger generation of journalists has a negative perception of the syndicate. It doesn’t represent anything for them,” Qallash, a spokesman for the National Committee for Defending Freedom of Expression and Creativity, a pressure group, told the Weekly.

“The younger generation of journalists prefers to interact in youth bodies outside the syndicate due to their lack of confidence in it. Part of my desire to end the deterioration in the syndicate’s work comes through my wish to see the return of this generation to the syndicate,” he added.

“This younger generation of journalists is the one that will be able to achieve the rehabilitation of the syndicate and get it out of the recovery room. The syndicate should restore the confidence of journalists and be once again the legal entity protecting journalists,” Qallash said.

A fortnight ago, the syndicate’s board decided to raise journalists’ pensions from LE900 to LE1,000 a month. Earlier, it increased the training and technology allowance disbursed to journalists on a monthly basis from LE1,200 to LE1,400, to be implemented from March 2015.

“In order to have independent journalists, we need to pay them fairly by altering salary scales,” Qallash said, adding, “It’s time for the syndicate not to be just a means to achieve personal success.”

Rashwan believes that changing salaries does not have a legal basis. “There is no salary scale applying to journalists on the national, party and independent newspapers alike. Hence, talk of altering salary scales is legally baseless.”

“Instead, we could talk about setting a minimum wage for all journalists by placing the syndicate as a third party between the journalist and his newspaper so that it could act on his behalf,” Rashwan said.

Mohamed Abdel-Hafez, managing editor of Al-Shorouk daily and a candidate for a board seat, believes that a unified salary scale can be achieved.

“Under the current laws, there is no possibility of such a scale. But the syndicate has set up focus groups among workers in the media field in order to amend the legislation governing the work of journalists. As a result, we can demand either a salary scale for all journalists or even request a minimum wage,” Abdel-Hafez told the Weekly.

Abdel-Hafez also suggests that the syndicate mediate between journalists and their employers in order to supervise salary payments and act on the behalf of journalists.

Syndicate focus groups are currently holding sessions with a view to reaching agreed-upon formulations to amend legislation governing journalists and the media and bring it into line with the 2014 constitution.

The current syndicate board has been late in paying attention to such sessions, Qallash said. “They waited for about ten months following the implementation of the new constitution to discuss draft laws for media personnel. They should have started earlier in order to have enough time to discuss such important laws,” he said.

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