Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A path from crisis

Veteran journalist Amina Shafik tells Dina Ezzat that the Press Syndicate cannot afford to turn its back on younger journalists

A path from crisis
A path from crisis
Al-Ahram Weekly

A prominent journalist and veteran figure of the Press Syndicate for six decades, Amina Shafik sat for 30 years on the syndicate board and has served two terms as secretary-general.

Few can know the history of the syndicate better. Shafik says that times are changing and the challenges and responsibilities that the syndicate’s board must now deal with are very different to those that the board faced in 1999, the last time Shafik was a member.

“There is a new generation now. The younger generation probably comprise more than two thirds of the members of the Press Syndicate. That, at least, was the impression I got when I went to the syndicate for the general assembly,” she said.

The general assembly gathering was held following the arrest of two journalists from inside the Press Syndicate. The arrests were on the order of the prosecutor but were made in the absence of either the chair of the syndicate or any member of its council, though the presence of one or both when security forces enter the building is stipulated in the regulations of the Press Syndicate,” she said.

“I was really surprised that the police stormed the headquarters of the syndicate to arrest two journalists. It is unprecedented for the police to enter the syndicate without prior notice to the board.”

According to Shafik, why this “had to happen during a long official holiday is equally perplexing”.

 “The standard procedure, and it has been done time and again, is for the law enforcement body to inform the president or the board of the syndicate of the prosecutor’s order and to arrange for the handover of the journalists in the presence of the head of the syndicate or members of the board who should also be present during the process of interrogation,” she said.

Shafik said this could have happened in the case of Amr Badr and Mohamed Al-Saqqa had the police been in due touch with Press Syndicate head Yehia Qalash.

There were three parties to the crisis, at least in its first phase, said Shafik — the two young journalists, the syndicate and the police.

“I am far from convinced it was impossible for the prosecutor’s order and for the Press Syndicate law to be equally respected simultaneously. It could have been managed another way.”

 Once the arrest happened inside the headquarters of the Press Syndicate it was very difficult to cap the anger of younger journalists.

“It was not in the hands of the head of the syndicate or anyone else to turn their back on the fury of younger generations or to attempt to subdue it. What had to be done was to contain the uproar. Before this happened it would have been very difficult to talk of negotiations,” said Shafik.

She argues that “current negotiations” between the syndicate and the authorities are only possible now because the syndicate’s young majority have not objected to the talks.

Shafik is not overly bothered by the “high ceiling of demands” insisted on during the 4 May general assembly. It was only to be expected, she said, that the demands — which were later subject to negotiation — be set high. “It’s hardly the first time in the history of the syndicate, or other professional syndicates for that matter, when demands are put on the table and then negotiated,” she noted.

 What is important now, said Shafik, is to avoid divisions among Press Syndicate members. 

“It would be very unfortunate if we started falling into factions. We can discuss problems and disagree or agree on their solutions but we must do this as members of the syndicate. Any other calls, even if prompted by good intentions, threaten to be counterproductive.”

 Shafik also thinks it is high time that the Press Syndicate engage in a candid and thorough dialogue with its younger members.

“This is a very important task. We are talking about the majority of the members of the syndicate, and we are also talking about the future. We need to listen to what they have in mind,” Shafik stressed.

“As well as reminding the government over and over again that it has to reach out to the young and listen to them, civil society — and that includes professional syndicates — must listen to their own younger members.”

Shafik argued that it would undermine the syndicate for any journalists who happen to disagree with the chair or the board to press to withdraw confidence from them.

“Let us show respect for due process here. They were elected for a term that is nearing its end. If they don’t keep the confidence of members they will simply not be re-elected,” she said.

Shafik insisted that it is in neither the executive’s nor the syndicate’s interest to prolong the dispute. “The syndicate and the Interior Ministry have nothing to gain from becoming embroiled in a battle when all our energies are needed in the fight against terror,” she said.

Meanwhile, she argued, no political pressure will prevent the press from discussing issues of public interest. “This is what the press is all about,” she said.

 Suggestions that the press has adopted an oppositional stance against the executive are wide of the mark, she said. “This is simply not true. There has been full support for good work that on many fronts, from mega social housing schemes to mega agrarian schemes.”

The Press Syndicate has been through many ups and downs during its 75 years and Shafik is confident the current standoff will pass, “but it will happen by accommodating the views of the younger generation which cannot be overlooked”.

The meeting of the general assembly scheduled for Wednesday, 18 May, should help reach this objective, she concluded.

The Press Syndicate called for the meeting of its members to follow up on the latest developments in the ongoing dispute with the Interior Ministry, a statement by the syndicate said on Sunday.

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