UPDATED: News weekly Egypt Independent axed, print edition cancelled

Bel Trew, Friday 26 Apr 2013

Editorial team says censorship – not financial woes – is reason for Al-Masry Al-Youm management's decision to close newspaper; 50th issue published online despite print ban

Egypt independent

Privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm News cooperation withheld the 50th edition of their English-language publication Egypt Independent Thursday and confirmed it had formally shut down the weekly newspaper's operations, after two months of crisis talks between management and the paper's editorial team failed.

Citing financial woes, Al-Masry Al-Youm's new chairman Abdel-Moneim Said had initially given the paper two months to cut costs, raise revenues and identify potential investors or be axed.

Said has recently moved to the private news organisation from state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, where he was chairman during the last two years of Hosni Mubarak's rule.

However, Egypt Independent Editor Lina Attalah told Ahram Online Thursday that senior management ignored the team's efforts to meet Said's three demands while failing to provide a viable business plan or commercial team to help solve the crisis.

Ahram Online attempted to contact Said for his reaction to the closure of Al-Masry Al-Youm's sister publication but he was unavailable for comment.

Since February the Egypt Independent team had tabled several cost-cutting and revenue-generating measures to bolster financial backing and consequently secured potential investors as well as holding a successful fund-raising concert in March.

"[Closing us down] was a predetermined decision to shut all progressive critical voices within the institution and unify the narrative under that of Al-Masry Al-Youm daily," Attalah asserted, adding in her editor's letter that the decision to cancel the newspaper's 50th and final issue was an example of the "plague of self-censorship" in Egyptian media.

In response to a social media backlash, Al-Masry Al-Youm announced late Thursday that it did not cancel the final 50th issue, as they had in fact determined that 18 April edition would be the last.

The statement published on their Arabic website, also claimed they would be keeping Egypt Independent online and instead would create an "integrated newsroom with the Arabic counterpart. "

In response, the Egypt Independent editorial team speaking to Ahram Online claimed that Al-Masry Al-Youm was "playing on a technicality."

"They are spinning it as a restructure of the operation," said Amira Ahmed, Deputy Editor of Egypt Independent, explaining that they will retain a translation service of the Arabic edition using a reduced team and will not generate any original content.

"This is not the essence of what Egypt Independent is about. We provide in depth original analytical features – we are not translators, we are journalists and editors," Ahmed continued, "This way [Al-Masry Al-Youm] do not have to take responsibility for laying off 35 members of staff or have to pay severance packages."

As the 49th issue was going to print, the staff of Egypt Independent say they were notified that the next issue would be their last - leading them to believe they would publish one more edition.

Ahmed added that the team believe they pulled this week's paper "due to an issue over content" particularly as the focus, the team said in online statement Thursday, dealt with the problems the newspaper and Egyptian media in general have faced.

Following the print ban, Egypt Independent's team was forced to disseminate their latest print edition online using publishing website Scribd.

Thursday is not the first time that Al-Masry Al-Youm management had prevented the beleaguered English-language weekly from going to print.

Egypt Independent's third print edition was also pulled after former Al-Masry Al-Youm editor-in-chief Magdy El-Gallad deemed an op-ed criticising the then-ruling Armed Forces too sensitive.

The closure of the independent paper comes against the backdrop of growing fear of limitations on press freedoms in Egypt.

Last Month, the Journalists' Syndicate issued a statement accusing the presidency of launching a campaign of "intimidation and incitement" against journalists, after a sit-in outside the Media Production City turned violent and then journalists were reportedly attacked by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood outside the Islamist group's Cairo headquarters.

A number of journalists have also been summoned by the prosecutor-general in 2013 on charges of "insulting" the president, sparking fears of blanket state-led censorship.

Egypt Independent employees told Ahram Online that their focus now was to secure access to the articles written since the news outlet was launched four years ago.

"We are worried about the state of the brand name and the archive we have complied – with the last two years being particularly critical as they represent a real record of Egypt's revolution," Attalah said, adding that the team has not been offered compensation or severance packages.

"We are still an operating team, we are in the planning, thinking and recovering stage," Attalah concluded, "we are thinking about how to form the re-incarnation of our practice and narrative."

Egypt Independent was established as a website in 2009 by the Al-Masry Al-Youm news organisation, which has published a popular Arabic-language daily since 2004. In 2011, Egypt Independent began publishing a weekly print edition. 

Short link: