Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Celebrating a milestone

The Press Syndicate plans to make its 75th birthday celebrations very special indeed, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s Press Syndicate has announced that it will celebrate 75 years since its establishment by organising three weeks of cultural events. The events will be the biggest since the inauguration of the syndicate in 1941, the syndicate said in a statement released on Sunday. The celebrations will start on April 10 and run for three weeks.

“It is the 75th birthday of our beloved syndicate, and we will celebrate this important occasion by holding three weeks of cultural seminars and art exhibitions,” the statement said. “We will host journalists, writers, novelists and other intellectual figures who have contributed to the struggle of the syndicate to protect the press in Egypt.”

During the three weeks, the syndicate will hold a three-day conference on the future of journalism in Egypt and discuss the challenges journalists face as they do their work.

Gamal Abdel-Rahim, a syndicate board member, said that the celebrations will celebrate older members who have “dedicated their lives to serving the syndicate and struggling for the freedom of the press”.

He added that all former chairmen will be honoured for their services. The editors-in chief of the national papers will attend seminars to discuss the current challenges the press is facing in Egypt and the policies the state should follow.

The syndicate has been facing challenges in helping journalists to do their jobs and providing necessary protections. It has been criticised for not providing enough protection to journalists. Its leadership has, however, been in negotiation with the government to release journalists who are in jail for publishing or on politically related charges.

Yehia Qallash, the syndicate chairman, said that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had promised to pardon journalists who are in jail on the 75th anniversary of the syndicate. “I sent the presidency a letter to ask for the pardon of 28 journalists who are now in jail. Fourteen of them are members of the syndicate, and the others are practicing journalists but are not members,” Qallash said.

Located in downtown Cairo, a few minutes from Tahrir Square, the syndicate’s entrance is covered with political posters. There are also graffiti drawings of two journalists who were killed during the 25 January Revolution.

Khaled Al-Balshi, a syndicate board member and head of its Freedoms Committee, said that it was doing what it could to help journalists get the protections they need. However, he said this is not an “easy mission” given the critical circumstances the country has been passing through since 2011.

Al-Balshi took part in a sit-in last month inside the syndicate headquarters to protest against the conditions of imprisoned journalists in the Al-Aqrab Prison. He was accompanied by relatives of the detained journalists.

He said there are currently more than 20 journalists who are either imprisoned or detained and are now waiting to stand trial on various charges. However, this could change if President Al-Sisi issues the pardons, as promised to the syndicate’s chairman.

In addition to providing protection for journalists, the syndicate still faces the task of managing the growing number of people who are practicing journalists but are not members of the syndicate.

The 1970 Syndicate Law and 1960 Press Law limit membership of the syndicate to journalists who are employed full-time at licenced newspapers and exclude members of the broadcast and online media.

The Press Syndicate today has only 6,000 members out of more than 15,000 journalists working in Egypt. The regulations leave thousands of professionals working for online media, as well as broadcasters and freelancers, without a syndicate that can speak on their behalf.

Another challenge the syndicate is facing is finding a way to raise journalists’ salaries. Average salaries of full-time journalists in daily newspapers range from LE800 to LE2,000 per month, and the syndicate is already paying monthly stipends of up to LE1,400 to retired journalists.

The stipend system began in 1981 as a means of providing journalists with an extra source of revenue for training and technological development.

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