Problems on hold
Egypt’s journalists have elected Abdel-Mohsen Salama as head of their syndicate, and six new members to the syndicate board. This round of elections was among the fiercest and most critical the syndicate has seen. Members vociferously called for reform and development of their syndicate and the legislation governing it; their various demands were met by a plethora of promises by candidates who ran for the board. Today, I cannot help wondering how the new syndicate board will live up to its promises given the varied, divergent nature of the demands.
I extend my best wishes to Mr Salama and to the six new members who have joined another six already on the board, hoping they would bond harmoniously to work to enhance journalism as a profession and bring in adequate benefits for journalists. The challenges are huge; tackling them through a divided board is a feat swathed in doubts and fears.
The syndicate’s Committee for Defending the Independence of the Press issued a media statement once the election results were announced. “The upcoming period,” the statement said, “requires a syndicate board whose members would work in harmony and through close outlooks and visions to fulfil the significant expectations of the journalist assembly. We hope the promises made by the new syndicate head and board members would not vanish into thin air like other promises [of previous elections].”
Two years ago, following the 2015 elections, I wrote The Journalists Syndicate board elections: A dissonant board? [http://en.wataninet.com/opinion/editorial/the-journalists-syndicate-board-elections-a-dissonant-board/13428/]. Reading it today makes the recent elections déjà vu. Following are excerpts from what I wrote back in March 2015.
- Electoral campaigning involved perspectives and ambitions so divergent as to be sure to cause confusion. It makes one wonder what common ground would unite the board as it runs the affairs of journalists, fulfills their aspirations, and promotes the profession of journalism.
- As I see them, promises to fulfil these demands were a mere play on the sentiments of journalists by candidates who desired to win board seats. The candidates offered all-too-divergent policies … how can they put into action these policies once they are on the board? Would they have to renege on their electoral promises, or will they struggle to keep them while their colleagues on the board try to keep other, different promises? Will the board be rife with internal conflict as each candidate struggles to fulfill the electoral platform over which he or she won their seats? In which case the only victims will be journalists and journalism. I do not mean to project a negative pessimistic view; I merely cite what happens when candidates with divergent views get democratically elected to boards … It is no secret that such boards end up arenas of conflict. In case of the journalists, how can they hold any member of the board accountable for not implementing what he pledged on his electoral platform when he fails to persuade the other members of the board—who got elected on other, totally different platforms—to endorse his views?
- I discussed with several candidates the viability of the individual candidacy system and what chance it had to work in favour of the journalists. I suggested that groups of candidates with common ground should run on competing lists that each includes candidates with harmonious views. They can thus pledge to commit themselves to a bunch of policies which they would work to achieve if they make it to the board. Each list may also include a candidate for the head of syndicate. Journalists would then be able to choose between different lists by comparing policies and agendas, instead of from among a large number of individual names backed by journalistic credit or political affiliation, but not necessarily by what they can offer journalists and journalism.
This was two years ago; today nothing has changed. In this context, I commend the stance taken by former head of the Journalists Syndicate Diaa’ Rashwan who said he would only contend the elections if journalists rallied behind common goals instead of individual competition and battles that lead only to smear campaigns. Mr Rashwan had to withdraw from the elections; he issued a statement to explain his stance under the title “Apology and disclaimer”.
I am not crying over spilt milk; I hope against hope that the new board manages to make a positive impact.
One marginal point which nevertheless borders on black comedy: I find it hard to comprehend how, in this age of technology and digital revolution, electoral campaigning is run through posters and print material. Till when will the craze of printing hundreds of thousands of electoral campaigning material persist? Till when will journalists and their syndicate create tons of paper waste that end up thrown on the floors and stairs of the syndicate on election day? I hope the new board puts an end to this waste by drafting a new protocol for electoral campaigning, a protocol that would recapture the respect and dignity of the profession.
26 March 2017