The head of Egypt's National Press Authority (NPA) Karam Gabr (Photo by Al-Ahram)
Egypt’s National Press Authority has said that a recent controversial decision to stop hiring at national press institutions is a temporary measure until the matter is carefully studied as part of a broader plan to overhaul national papers.
The decision, announced by the cabinet earlier this week, has raised questions over the future of hundreds of journalists and staff members who have worked for years at state-run papers without permanent contracts.
In a statement on Tuesday, head of the authority Karam Gabr said the move is intended to help under-resourced institutions meet their financial obligations towards employees with contracts, and to avert adding large numbers of staff to newspapers, which would further strain their finances.
He said the papers are obliged to present a count of those working without permanent contracts, the duration of their service, as well as their job tasks in order to study the necessary steps that need to be taken on the matter.
The papers will still accept "young members who are capable of [keeping up with] technological developments, while taking into account the current circumstances regarding the inability of institutions to provide salaries for basic employees," he said in the statement.
“The step aims to avoid the mistakes that occurred in recent years in supplying institutions with large numbers [of employees], which has led to the current situation,” the statement added.
The Authority, which regulates state-run publications, will take measures in the next few days to implement a financial and administrative reform programme and develop editorial content for state papers, Gabr said.
The five-year reform scheme aims to "salvage the institutions, make the best use of untapped assets and address their decades-long chronic problems."
Under the constitution, the Authority has the right to upgrade press institutions, develop their assets and ensure their independence and impartiality.
“The current difficult circumstances experienced by the institutions require the necessity of accelerating the implementation of the financial and administrative reform plan and the developing of editorial content in a gradual manner, in order to ensure the institutions will continue carrying out their tasks and to preserve the rights of its workers,” it said.
"The reform plan aims at gradually reaching a balance between revenues and expenditures, reducing losses, addressing accumulated debt problems, and maximising benefits from assets,” the statement concluded.
There are hundreds of informal trainees and journalists who have been working for many years in Egypt's national press institutions.
Under Egypt's 2014 constitution, TV, radio, print and online media are regulated by three regulatory bodies: the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR), the National Press Organisation (NPO), and the National Media Organisation (NMO).
Earlier this week, Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madboluy urged the immediate implementation of a plan to reform and develop national press institutions to contain expenditures.
One of the most important parts of the plan was to stop hiring at press institutions, prohibiting the extension of the retirement age except in special cases and for veteran journalists, which should be done in coordination with the National Press Authority.
The plan also included programmes to settle debts via a programme aimed at maximising unused assets, studying the financial plans of press publications and separating editorial and administrative roles.