Egypt’s journalists protest new Shura Council rules for state-run press
Egypt upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, began setting criteria for appointing the chief editors of state-run newspapers, an Egyptian daily reported. The door was opened for nominations to the top posts on Tuesday for one week.
Chief editors will be selected according to standards that have been agreed on by the a Shura Council specialized committee, the Journalists Association and the Supreme Press Council, Egypt’s Independent daily reported.
Prior to the Jan. 25, 2011 revolution, media had been under the control of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was known to jail reporters, close down newspapers and impose fines when journalists upset the regime.
The Shura Council, which owns eight state-run press institutions, according to a 1979 constitutional amendment, is responsible for recruiting editors-in-chief and board of directors for state owned news organizations. Under the ousted regime, the Shura Council used this authority to appoint employees who would serve the state’s agenda.
According to the new rules, applicants should have spent 15 years at the institution whose publications they seek to be in charge of. They should have worked for the last ten years in a row without taking unpaid leaves. They should also be selected from inside the publication itself, the newspaper reported.
Moreover, applicants should not have been involved in selling advertisements. They should not have been referred to disciplinary councils by the syndicate or have been found guilty of depravity.
They cannot be involved in normalization with Israel, and should not have taken part in corrupting political life or working as media advisors under the former regime.
If there are not any applicants in-house who meet the required conditions, then candidates can be chosen from outside, according to the new regulations laid by the Shura Council committee.
A committee from the Shura Council would then name one of the applicants for the top position.
Scores of journalists protested on Tuesday before the Journalists Association against the new standards. Demonstrators rejected that chief editors will be selected by a committee led by the Shura Council and not through elections.
Moreover, experts have raised concerns about the Islamist-dominated Shura Council interfering in the process.
“The Freedom and Justice paper has recently published several stories and articles that talk about purging press institutions of liberals and leftists,” Salah Eissa, assistant secretary general of the Supreme Press Council, was quoted by Egypt Independent as saying in mid-June.
A statement by the Journalists Association in earlier June had explained that the Shura Council’s attempts to intervene in the affairs of press institutions raise suspicions that it is attempting to inherit the role and dominance of the defused National Democratic Party (NDP).
Members of the Journalists Association said they fear the Shura Council’s standards will facilitate the appointment of chief editors loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, who comprise the majority of the parliament.
After Hosni Mubarak assumed power in 1981, Law 96/1996, known as the Journalism Authority Law, was issued, the Egypt Independent report said. It set the term of a chief editor at three years and that of a chairperson at four, though several kept their positions longer. Some chief editors remained in their post for over 21 years under Mubarak.
Following the Jan. 25 revolution, the then-prime minister Essam Sharaf replaced 18 top officials at state-run press institutions. The changes, approved by the ruling military council, were understood to be temporary until Parliament was elected. All figures considered to be pro-Mubarak were replaced.
Eissa said the Brothers are disgruntled by criticism of their performance by state media.
“But they don’t have many professional journalists to fill those posts. In the end, they will choose from among the choices available,” he was quoted as saying by the Egypt Independent.
Eissa said that reforming press institutions requires one of three solutions: to privatize them and keep a certain stake for the state, to transform them into holding companies or to establish a transparent mechanism allowing employees to own half of the institution they work for.
“The solutions are known, but political will to enforce one of them is what we need,” he said.