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Salama Ahmed Salama's last book: Freedom first and last

Many of the problems journalism in Egypt faces now were discussed by the late Salama Ahmed Salama three years ago

Sayed Mahmoud, Wednesday 18 Jul 2012
Salama Ahmed Salama
Late Egyptian Journalist Salama Ahmed Salama
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Unlike most writers of his generation, late Egyptian journalist Salama Ahmed Salama did not write books on single topics; all we have of his work are his articles, some of which he collected and issued as books.

Salama, was editor-in-chief of Al-Shorouk newspaper. He died last week, at the age of 80.

Salama was a regular columnist for Al-Ahram daily for many years. He also wrote for Weghat Nazr (Points of Views) and, more recently, wrote a column for Al-Shorouk entitled Min Qareeb (Close By).

He was born in 1932 and graduated with a degree in philosophy from the Faculty of Humanities at Cairo University in 1953.

His latest book collection was Assahafa Fawk Saffeh Sakhen (Journalism on a Hot Top), released from Dar Al-Ain in 2009. In it he analysed what he saw as a crisis of Egyptian journalism, a profession he had been working within for 60 years.

In his last article, Salama sought to take an objective position on the thorny question of the appointment of new chief editors of state owned newspapers, a question he discussed three years ago in his book that also includes many insights on journalism in Egypt and what ought to be its future.

A key challenge to "national journalism" (that within state owned press organisations), according to Salama, is that state owned institutions became paralysed and unable to compete with newly born independent newspapers, largely because of corruption and sagging bureaucracies.

But worse still, Salama often said, was the lost credibility state owned newspapers suffered and their failure to convince readers, whose taxes finance these institutions, that they reflects reality and express the public interest.

The late writer spoke of "a striking contradiction" in the relation between these newspapers and the state: on the one hand they are owned by the state, which appoints their editorial staff and boards of directors. On the other hand, formally these newspapers are independent by law from the executive authority of the state and all political parties.

Salama saw that rights of ownership necessarily meant that the state would interfere in the editorial policies of state owned newspapers. He understood that independent journalism necessitates financial and administrative independence from the state. He also called for all laws restricting freedoms of expression and publishing to be abolished.

The book's preface is written by Egypt's famous journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, who preferred not to call what he wrote a preface but rather a letter from a friend of the author. Heikal describes Salama, saying "He's a symbol of professionalism, and intellectual integrity."

Salama speaks of the enlightening role of journalism, asserting its importance, especially in societies where illiteracy is high. Journalism helps to expand the margin of freedom.

Salama saw that independent newspapers were witnessing a period of blooming, but still had problems, some deeper than those of state owned newspapers. For one, he pointed out that legal loopholes prohibit journalists from owning shares in the companies that issues their newspapers, ending with capital dominating the media.

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