Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

A battle for press freedom

Egypt’s journalists have vowed to take measures to annul the recent constitutional declaration, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

The crisis stirred by the 22 November constitutional declaration passed by President Mohamed Morsi topped the agenda of an emergency meeting of the Press Syndicate general assembly on Sunday. Announcing their rejection of the Declaration, journalists agreed to organise a protest march on Tahrir Square on Tuesday at noon.
The assembled journalists insisted that the country’s new constitution, still in the process of drafting, should include guarantees of a free press. Unless all constitutional shackles that could undermine the freedom of the press were lifted, the journalists threatened to escalate their protests, saying that all options remained open.   
The assembly witnessed verbal clashes and fistfights between supporters of syndicate chair Mamdouh Al-Wali, known for his Islamist leanings, and his opponents. The clashes started when Al-Wali insisted that the assembly lacked legitimacy as the legal quorum was not achieved and as a result no recommendations could be passed.  
Anti-Wali slogans were loudly chanted, with journalists accusing him of acting as the “Muslim Brotherhood man in the syndicate”. A group of angry journalists suggested that a vote of confidence should be taken in Al-Wali, a suggestion that heated up the already tense situation.
Several journalists mediated and chanted in an effort to calm things down. Former chair of the syndicate Galal Aref urged the journalists to unify and to put aside their political differences.
“What is happening to the Egyptian press is a reflection of what is happening in the country as a whole. We have to do something, as we are the guardians of this country,” Aref said.
Leftist writer and deputy chair of the syndicate Gamal Fahmi called upon members of the assembly to act responsibly. “Call the meeting a general assembly or call it a conference. It makes no difference. What is important is to discuss our current concerns, for the will of journalists should be made felt,” Fahmi said.
After much heated debate, the three-hour assembly issued a statement calling for the cancellation of the declaration. The statement described the president’s move “as an assault on the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law, and the freedom of the press.”
The assembly also assigned members of the syndicate council with calling a general assembly meeting before the end of December. The meeting would supposedly endorse recommendations passed by journalists protesting against recent government interference in the appointment and sacking of the editors of the state-owned newspapers.
The December assembly would also discuss a new law to regulate press affairs.
The draft law should set LE3,000 as the minimum monthly salary for journalists working in the state-owned newspapers, the statement said.  
“We are preparing to take more escalatory measures in case the government and the Constituent Assembly continue to ignore our demands,” Karem Mahmoud, a member of the syndicate council told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He added that these measures could include withholding the publication of newspapers for days.
The statement backed the council’s decision to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly, after demands by journalists regarding the status of the press in the new draft constitution were not taken into consideration.
Fahmi told the Weekly that the assembly had ignored eight proposals prepared by the syndicate giving the state-owned papers their independence.
“Members of the syndicate were disappointed at the assembly’s failure to include an article that would prohibit the imprisonment of journalists for publication offences. We also reject restrictions on personal freedoms that will have a negative impact on the freedom of the press,” he said.
Fahmi and other members voiced their concern over the status of the state-owned newspapers in the new draft constitution.  
The Constituent Assembly has proposed an article that would transfer the ownership of the state-owned newspapers from the Shura Council to a new body that would be created called the National Authority for Press and Media.
“The National Authority for Press and Media will manage and develop the state-owned press and media institutions. It will also manage their assets and ensure they meet technical, managerial and economic targets,” the proposed article reads.
According to syndicate board member Alaa Al-Attar, the body would reinforce government control over the state-owned newspapers rather than making them independent, as journalists have been demanding for decades.
Following the meeting, hundreds of journalists headed to Tahrir Square to show their solidarity with the protesters and their rejection of the constitutional declaration.
Arriving in the square, the journalists were met with applause from the protesters. After reading the recommendations of the syndicate general assembly, the journalists announced they would take part in Tuesday’s sit-in.

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