“The profession of journalism is facing multiple challenges,” head of the State Information Service (SIS) Diaa Rashwan, a candidate for the chairmanship of the Press Syndicate, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Rashwan is among eleven candidates contesting the syndicate’s top position. In addition, 53 journalists are battling for the six-board seats up for grabs in tomorrow’s mid-term elections.
A poll was initially held on 1 February but failed to attract the quorum of 50 per cent of all general assembly members, leading to a two-week postponement.
Rashwan’s candidacy was challenged by lawyer Ali Ayoub who filed a lawsuit against Rashwan, claiming he was ineligible to stand as head of the syndicate as long as he remained chairman of the SIS. On 9 March the Supreme Court rejected the petition to exclude him from standing.
Rashwan insists that he is not being parachuted from a state body – the SIS – to take over the syndicate but was competing as a journalist and former Press Syndicate chairman who had been assigned a state post at the SIS.
Rashwan won the Press Syndicate’s top post in 2013 when his main competitor was Abdel-Mohsen Salama, the current head of the syndicate. In 2015 Rashwan failed to win a second term, losing to Yehia Qallash. In 2017 Salama defeated Qallash, receiving 2,457 votes against Qallash’s 1,890.
“The challenges facing the profession of journalism are many. Some think the most important challenge is the deteriorating conditions of national press organisations. Others prioritise the dismissal of hundreds of journalists from private newspapers. There are parties who say the image of the journalist, and how journalists are dealt with by the state is most important. Priorities vary, but what they all confirm is the magnitude of the crisis we face,” said Rashwan.
Rashwan said he had received many calls from people from different generations, some of them intellectually and politically at odds with him, yet they all urged him to stand. “My question to them was whether they were ready to work with me and they said yes.
“This is what encouraged me to stand in the election,” he said, adding that there are no personal gains to be made from the job.
The printed press is in a poor condition, Rashwan told the Weekly. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, distribution of the printed press in Egypt in 2010 reached 3.5 million copies a day.
Currently it stands at 350,000 copies, including all the printed press. Rashwan said that if he wins he will organise a conference to address the crisis faced by the industry.
While some believe that electronic journalism is the future and print newspapers are going to demise, ion their last legs, in other countries the opposite is true.
In Japan, for example, more than fifty million copies of newspapers are distributed. Journalists need to put their heads together to reach recommendations that can be used to save the industry, he told the Weekly.
Concerning the dismissal of journalists from private newspapers Rashwan said he would try to convince the papers’ owners to keep publishing and form a union to collectively work out their problems.
While stressing that freedom of speech is the major pillar upon which journalism rests he said that events of the past few years, including two revolutions, had created “great confusion”.
“Within this confusion there are two different trends, one that sees freedom as everything and the other that believes we need to reduce its margins.” It is a dilemma, said Rashwan, that afflicts all post-revolutionary periods.
“I believe that we have to strengthen freedoms but this will require determination and patience.”
Every small step forward takes us in the right direction, he said.
Rashwan is committed to improving the financial conditions of journalists and promised an increase in their monthly technology allowance.
“The allowance will be increased by 25 per cent starting in July, though I will do my best to increase it earlier if possible,” he said.
Rashwan also promised to increase pensions, currently set at LE1,450, by at least 20 per cent.
“The syndicate will not see divisions, be they religious or partisan, under my tenure. I will work to strengthen unity and promote constructive dialogue on public issues,” Rashwan told the Weekly.
Rashwan is also committed to allowing journalists working for online news services to join the syndicate. Currently, membership is limited to those working for print publications.
Refaat Rashad, managing editor of Al-Akhbar, is the best known of Rashwan’s 10 adversaries in tomorrow’s election.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Pressing problems