Press Syndicate against restrictions

Nesmahar Sayed , Thursday 23 May 2024

Head of the Press Syndicate says he disagrees with a decision to ban funeral photos.

Press Syndicate against restrictions

 

Khaled Al-Balshi, head of the Press Syndicate, vehemently disagrees with a recent decision by Minister of Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa to ban photos of funerals in mosques.

Gomaa had sent a statement to the Press Syndicate that it was “strictly forbidden” to photograph any funeral, whether entering or leaving the mosque, or during the funerary prayers “because it does not befit the sanctity of the mosque or the sanctity of the dead”. The decision was taken following chaotic incidents at some funerals.

Al-Balshi told Al-Ahram Weekly that he considered the ban “a clear assault on the constitution and the laws that stipulate freedom of the press”.

He said the syndicate supports determining controls in the practice of journalism, adding that it is responsible for establishing codes and holding accountable those who deviate from them “like all professional unions”.

“We reject the violation of private life, but initiating draft legislation on this matter, and your decision as minister of endowments to prevent filming funerals, restricts the freedom of the press, exceeds limits, and violates the constitution and the law,” Al-Balshi said in a statement.

Al-Balshi added that the Ministry of Endowments does not have the right to announce any control over photographing funerals, explaining that the Photographers Division took the initiative not to cover the funeral of the mother of a famous actor “because we distinguish between the lives of public figures, which are the property of public opinion, their fans, students, and audiences, and ordinary citizens.”

Al-Balshi told the Weekly that the syndicate had never failed to confront any violation by any of its members that was reported to it. He said it was also keen to set up regulatory controls for photographing funerals and condolence ceremonies for celebrities through the Press Photographers Division, including a joint meeting between the syndicate and the Actors Syndicate headed by Ashraf Zaki.

Those controls, according to Al-Balshi, include dividing funeral coverage into funeral prayers in the mosque, burial in cemeteries, and condolences in an event hall, Islamic or Christian.

Distinguishing between funerals and condolences, Al-Balshi emphasised that photographing funerals was “an inherent right of journalists in order to perform their work in accordance with the laws and regulations regulating the media” which includes the right to attend conferences, sessions, and public meetings, to conduct interviews with the public, and to take pictures in places where it is not banned.

Funeral photography is limited to the site of the funeral in a mosque or church, in which the sanctity of the dead and respect for privacy are observed, Al-Balshi pointed out. “The photographer and journalist are prohibited from taking pictures in a cemetery unless given prior permission from the family of the deceased.”

He added that photographers should take into consideration where to stand in specific areas and to wear vests labelled “press”.

As for condolences, the family of the deceased has the right to limit attendance to relatives and should make that clear at the appropriate time.

“Failure to announce in advance a ban on media attendance is considered an implicit approval to accept press coverage,” Al-Balshi added.

The syndicate objected to the ban because it prevents journalists from carrying out their job of monitoring violations, societal phenomena, and results in the confiscation of modern tools for documentation, Al-Balshi said.

“It is completely unacceptable to violate personal life. We defend personal freedoms, but public figures are governed by different principles,” Al-Balshi said.

“I ask the Ministry of Endowments to scratch the decision and send comments to the syndicate,” Al-Balshi said. “We are ready to improve our performance.”


* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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