In Egypt, Journalists Question Election of Newspaper Editors

In Egypt, the editors of national newspapers will be elected, rather than appointed, for the first time in years. Ahmad Mustafa reports that because the Muslim Brotherhood controls the selection committee, journalists fear that the newspapers will become mouthpieces for the ruling party, calling the criteria for candidates "ridiculous."

al-monitor An opposition supporter uses a newspaper with headlines on Thursday's riots as a prayer mat as he waits to perform Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 4, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Steve Crisp.

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press syndicate, press, muslim brotherhood, muslim, media, journalists, journalism, freedom and justice party, egyptian press, egyptian media, egypt, editors-in-chief elections, council of journalists, censorship

Jul 3, 2012

Today [July 3], the Egyptian Shura Council (the upper house of the Egyptian parliament) will begin receiving candidate applications for editors-in-chief of national newspapers. This is the first time in years that the positions will be filled by elections; since the 1960s, the editors have been appointed. But this development did not please the factions that criticized the continued subordination of government newspapers to the supervision of the Supreme Council for Press, which is controlled by the Shura Council. The Shura Council is itself dominated by the Freedom and Justice Party, which is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On July 1, the Shura Council adopted the final criteria for choosing the national newspaper editors-in-chief and tasked the Committee on Culture and Media to begin accepting nominations from press organizations.

The requirements for the positions are:

  • Professional and administrative competence
  • The ability to innovate and lead
  • The capacity to develop the newspaper and make it profitable and competitive
  • The ability to present a clear program and vision for the advancement of the newspaper in a journalistic, administrative, financial and social sense
  • A good reputation and respect by his peers
  • Honesty and no prior involvement in any affairs related to corruption, mismanagement or the squandering of public funds, or any issues that involve moral turpitude
  • No prior prosecutions under the Political Corruption Law
  • Never having been the subject of disciplinary action from the Press Syndicate
  • Never having called for the normalization of relations with the Zionist Entity (Israel)
  • Not having suspicious relationships with foreign factions that conspire against Egypt and its people
  • Proficiency in the Arabic language and conversantional proficiency in a foreign language
  • Possession of wide-ranging cultural knowledge and familiarity with current affairs
  • No prior history of working to bring advertisement to previous newspapers or of working as a media consultant for any government official, businessman, company or local and foreign institution
  • 60 years of age or younger
  • More than 15 years of experience in the field of journalism
  • The last 10 years must have been spent working for the same institution

Each candidate must also present a journalistic archive that contains his ideas, visions, perceptions and innovations, as well as a résumé that showcases his expertise and the tasks for which he was responsible during his career.

Furthermore, the elected candidate “will hold his post for a period of three years, which can be renewed only once after a review of the circulation statistics and professional relationships.”

In a statement, the Council clarified that “those wishing to submit their candidature for the positions must present to the Committee on Culture, Media and Tourism a complete file that contains personal information, previous journalistic work samples and a brief plan concerning ideas to develop the desired publication.”

The president of the Journalists Syndicate, Mamdouh al-Wali, said, “The press field has been undergoing many changes since the revolution.” He further pointed out that “members of the Journalists Syndicate General Assembly chose the criteria by which the editors-in-chief candidates will be selected.” He added that the elected editors' terms be renewed "on the condition that the elected editor-in-chief fulfills his commitments and succeeds in developing the publication according to the plan that he presented upon submitting his candidature.” Wali told Al-Hayat that “the committee will accept the candidacy of any editor whose résumé contains the necessary qualifications to develop the publication.” He further stated that the elections “won’t be limited to the main newspapers only, but will include all 55 press organizations.”

Editors-in-chief for the national newspapers used to be appointed by the president of the Shura Council, who also headed the Supreme Council for Press, and abided by the recommendations of the presidency during former president Hosni Mubarak’s reign.

The Assistant Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Press, Salah Issa, believes that the agreed-upon criteria for electing the editors-in-chief were “mostly non-professional and contained political conditions, such as excluding those to whom the Law of Corrupting Political Life applied and those who promoted normalizing relations with Israel; these are wide-ranging and loose conditions that can be manipulated. Furthermore, the criteria did not include conditions that stipulate that the candidate should have undergone training for the responsibilities involved in editing the newspaper to which he is applying.”

He also criticized the selection process. As it stands, a committee will be formed that is tasked with electing three aspirants. These three will then be reviewed by the Shura Council, with one ultimately being chosen. He pointed out that “[the committee] is dominated by members of the Freedom and Justice Party [with six out of 14 members] who don’t possess the necessary competence to choose the candidates. Additionally, there are fears that selections will be made based on political affiliations.”  He also thought that “the Shura Council would be better off liberating the press from the state’s grasp so that the sector may be independent of all government authorities and political parties. Its control should then be transferred to an independent national council.”

Gamal Fahmi, a Press Syndicate council member, agreed with Issa and described the criteria as “humiliating and ridiculous.” He considered that “the Muslim Brotherhood is delusional in thinking that it inherited the Mubarak era's leftovers, and that it can manipulate them to its own advantage. They are inventing a system that is unknown to the world, where the press is managed like an institution that is dedicated to serving the interests of the ruling party by subjecting it to the control of the Shura Council.”

He added, “These attempts to dominate fall under the purview of this committee, which possesses political leanings. We know that the goal of these conditions is to make sure that certain candidates succeed.”

Fahmi stressed that “a law must be enacted to make journalistic institutions independent.” He also declared that journalist groups would further escalate their objections to the issue by holding sit-ins or taking legal action in order to “stop the charade.”

But Fathi Shihab-Eldine, the head of the Shura Council’s Committee on Culture and Media and who also presides over the committee that is tasked with choosing the editors-in-chief of the national newspapers, strongly defended the selection criteria. He also denied the presence of any interference from any source that could influence the committee. He told Al-Hayat: “No majority party or the Brotherhood is interfering with our work.”

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