Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Taxing news

Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports on growing tensions between President Mohamed Morsi’s government and state-owned press institutions

Al-Ahram Weekly

Minister of Finance Momtaz Al-Said last week said the government would pay state-owned newspapers only 50 per cent of the amount agreed for printing school books.
The reduced payments are to offset back taxes owed by state-owned press institutions that have in some cases accrued over three decades. In 2005 the then finance minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali agreed to reschedule the debts but under the new arrangements only Al-Ahram and Akhbar Al-Youm managed to contribute anything towards settling their unpaid bills. Two years later ousted Hosni Mubarak promised to cancel all debts incurred prior to 2006. The promise remained unfulfilled.
According to the Finance Ministry, national press institutions’ debts have increased by LE146 million in the last year.
Mohamed Gamaleddin, board chairman of Rose Al-Youssef, announced his resignation in protest at what he called “the government’s conspiracy to punish journalists at state-owned newspapers”.
“The timing of the decision makes it clear the Islamist-led government is seeking to place journalists working for state newspapers under siege,” Gamaleddin said in a statement. He added that Rose Al-Youssef was already financially overstretched and would soon be unable to pay salaries.  
According to Gamaleddin, the Finance Ministry has deducted LE2.5 million out of the LE7.6 million Rose Al-Youssef was supposed to get this year.
The government supports national press institutions to the tune of LE50 million annually, though according to ministry reports the institutions have already requested an additional LE100 million this year.   
Gamaleddin is not the first editor to resign. In July Helmi Al-Namnam, chairman of Al-Hilal publishing house, resigned in the wake of a financial crisis.
The Supreme Press Council (SPC), an off-shoot of the Shura Council, is responsible for running affairs — including appointing editors — at 10 state-owned press institutions.
Abdel-Fattah Al-Gebali, former chairman of Al-Ahram, is contesting the Shura Council’s decision of last August to dismiss him before the end of his contract. The Administrative Court is also considering a suit filed by Gamal Abdel-Rehim, the editor-in-chief of Al-Gomhuriya, contesting the Shura Council’s decision to suspend him for allegedly publishing false information about former military leaders. On Tuesday, the Administrative Court abolished the Shura Council’s decision.
Many newspaper editors have voiced concerns over the Ministry of Finance’s latest move.  
Ahmed Sameh, chairman of Akhbar Al-Youm, believes the government’s long term plan is to force national newspapers into bankruptcy and then to close them down.
“Advertising revenue fell by 80 per cent following the revolution. Hardly the most propitious time to start collecting back-taxes,” he wrote in an editorial published in Al-Akhbar daily.   
The government is now attempting to portray editors of state newspapers as “corrupted agents of the former regime” he added.    
Salah Eissa, a former member of the SPC, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the battle between journalists and the Muslim Brotherhood would not come to an end until all national press organisations are restructured.
“The problems of the national press lie in its affiliation to the state. Whichever political trend is in power will seek to control the state-owned media,” says Eissa.
Article 216 of the draft constitution seeks to shift responsibility for the national press from the Shura Council to a yet to be established body, a national council for journalism and media.
“The national council for journalism and media will manage and develop state-owned press and media institutions. It will also manage their assets, maximise national investment in them and ensure they meet technical, managerial and economic targets,” reads the proposed article.
Elsewhere the draft constitution states the president will appoint the head of the national council for journalism and media, subject to the approval of the Shura Council.
The proposals, says Eissa, in effect change the name of the SPC while consolidating the presidency’s control.
The Press Syndicate has called for an emergency general assembly on 18 November to discuss the situation.
In a statement issued on 24 October the Press Syndicate board noted that “the Shura Council and President Mohamed Morsi are adopting the same tactics Mubarak used in dealing with state newspapers”.

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