Saturday,24 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)
Saturday,24 June, 2017
Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

‘Step in the right direction’

The results of the Press Syndicate elections provoked mixed reactions

Salama (c) celebrates his victory amongst his supporters
Salama (c) celebrates his victory amongst his supporters

Journalists greeted the election of Al-Ahram Managing Editor Abdel-Mohsen Salama as head of the Press Syndicate with mixed feelings. While some hailed the results of Friday’s syndicate elections as a sign their union is moving back on to the right track, others argued Salama’s election represented a setback.

“The new head of the syndicate prefers consensus, and it is consensus that will see the syndicate move out of its current rut. The outcome of the elections bodes well. It paves the way for a professional syndicate capable of uniting its members and defending freedom of opinion,” said former Press Syndicate chairman Makram Mohamed Ahmed.

“I believe Salama will work on making the syndicate home for all members regardless of their political affiliations. He will not allow anyone to turn the syndicate into a partisan organisation. “

Pro-regime MP and journalist Mustafa Bakri says Salama’s election heralds an improvement in professional standards. “The result is a step in the right direction. Salama will promote the profession and defend freedoms while at the same time improving the services the syndicate offers its members,” Bakri told Al-Youm Al-Sabei website.

MP Mohamed Abu Hamed congratulated Salama, praising the election results on Twitter. “I congratulate Salama on becoming the head of the Press Syndicate. The syndicate is now free after being hijacked,” Abu Hamed said. Yehia Qallash failed to win a second term as syndicate chairman, losing to Salama by 560 votes.

During his electoral campaign Salama was dubbed the state candidate by some. He responded by arguing that maintaining a good relationship with the state authorities did not automatically make one their candidate and could be advantageous for the profession.

“Am I supposed to be confronting the state and its institutions?” he asked, a reference to the simmering dispute that erupted between the syndicate and the Interior Ministry under Qallash. The conflict began in May 2016 when police raided the syndicate’s headquarters in search of two fugitive journalists without notifying Qallash.

While some analysts believe Qallash lost the confidence of journalists because he had presided over an unprecedented conflict between the syndicate and the state, others point out that Gamal Abdel-Rehim, sentenced to two years in prison — the case is currently being appealed — along with Qallash and Khaled Al-Balshi for harbouring the two suspects, not only won a seat on the syndicate board, but did so with the largest share — 1182 — of votes. Amr Badr, who was one of two suspects, was also elected as a board member.

A handful of commentators argued that despite his victory Salama doesn’t represent the mainstream of press opinion and the result of the elections represents a setback for the independence of the syndicate.

Interviewer Youssef Al-Husseini tweeted: “Abdel-Mohsen Salama is the Press Syndicate chairman. So what? Mohamed Morsi was the president of Egypt... Misery.”

MP Haitham Al-Hariri drew a comparison between elections held by the Judges’ Club immediately before the 25 January uprising and the Press Syndicate poll, concluding that “financial incentives trump independence”.

Journalist Yasmine Al-Khatib questioned whether the syndicate’s headquarters — the steps to the building have long been a favoured venue for demonstrations — would now be off-limits to protesters. “Are the stairs no longer there?” Al-Khatib wondered.

Following the elections Bakri urged Salama to call a halt to the syndicate’s premises being used for demonstrations that questioned the state.

Meanwhile, the press community anxiously awaits the setting up of the Supreme Media Council, slated to replace the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU). Speculation as to who will be selected to sit on the council has reached fever pitch.

Ibrahim Al-Iraqi, the acting head of ERTU, is rumoured to be among the frontrunners for chairman of the council. Other names in the rumour mill include Ahmed Anis, president of NileSat and a former minister of information and Hussein Amin, professor of media at the American University in Cairo and a member of ERTU’s board of trustees.

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