The journalist community in Cairo elected a new board to its syndicate on 17 March 2023, in a positively democratic experience that has rooted power rotation. The newly elected chairman and members of the board will work to run the syndicate affairs, so as to draw policies that would benefit journalists and journalism. I list here the names of the new elected board of the Journalists Syndicate, leaving out the titles. The Chairman: Khaled al-Balshy; and the six members: Hisham Younis, Abdel-Raouf Khalifa, Gamal Abdel-Rehim, Mohamed al-Garhy, Mahmoud Kamel and Mohamed Yehia.
I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the new board, wishing them success in the huge charge they are shouldered with, that of ameliorating journalism as a profession, and promoting the interests of journalists. I commend the fine competition that characterised all phases of the electoral race and campaigning. Most of the candidates came to visit us at Watani; the visits reflected a candid climate that displayed perspectives and aspirations for better journalism and journalist conditions. None of the candidates attempted to criticise their predecessors or the other candidates running the elections.
In fact, the respectable competition on the chairman’s seat between Khaled al-Meiry and Khaled al-Balshy—both of whom visited Watani as part of their electoral campaigns— is a lesson in refined democratic practice. Until election day, there was heated competition between Meiry and Balshy; we all held our breaths till the final results were out, announcing the advancement of Balshy by a few votes, thus winning the seat of Head of the Journalists Syndicate. At this point, in all good faith and spirit, Meiry congratulated his rival and wished him and the journalists’ community success. Balshy’s response was equally gracious; he thanked Meiry and confirmed that they have both run an honest, fair race, and that they will remain dear syndicate colleagues.
Even as I commend the true democracy that brought in the new syndicate board, it is far from being the end of the story. For years I have had misgivings about a number of issues which I used to bring up with the election of consecutive syndicate boards. These issues have not been resolved; they are still pending.
I hope they would be addressed, in order for the electoral effort and journalist representation to attain full merit. I present here a few examples of what is burdening me in this context.
Perhaps the issue most discussed with the candidates we met in Watani during the last election campaign, and even previous campaigns, was the current condition of print journalism and the challenges it faces. Not concerning professional performance or freedom of opinion, since these are relative indices that vary from one paper to another depending on their orientations, policies and battles. The challenges discussed with the candidates consist in how to face the unprecedented economic burdens of the printed press in light of swelling costs and diminishing profits, given that the bylaws governing press institutions allow only advertisements and sales revenues as the sole sources of income of print journalism. These two resources have been steadily receding owing to the reciprocally steady takeover of media field by the electronic press and social media. Circulation of print media has consequently shrunk, leading to diminishing advertisements and a huge reduction in revenue. Accordingly, serious doubts now exist regarding the ability of print journalism to survive. Several previous boards of the Journalists Syndicate washed their hands of the problem, claiming that the syndicate represents not the press but the journalists. Yet this issue remains pressing and unavoidable, very simply because it epitomises the terrifying event of papers going bankrupt, meaning that the journalists and workers in these papers would be pushed into unemployment. We are thus before a critical challenge; we wait to see how the Journalists Syndicate and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation will deal with it so as to reach a situation that would rescue stumbling print newspapers.
Another issue that has steadily irked me regarding the syndicate elections concerns my aspiration for harmony among colleagues who become members of the board of the Journalists Syndicate, in order for them to work hand in hand for the benefit of journalism and journalists. More often than not, however, this expectation was not fulfilled because of the divergent plans and promises made by members of the board during their electoral campaigns. This often created differences and conflict inside the board regarding the prioritisation of policies to be embraced. I always called for the need to change the individual candidacy currently stipulated by the syndicate law to group candidacy. This way various groups, each with a unified programme, would address voters; when a group wins, it wins the seal of approval for the programme to which it should adhere to and implement.
Yet another issue that warrants revision regarding the syndicate board elections is, in my view, the fair and balanced representation. The biggest challenge in this regard is women representation, especially in a society that strives to get out of ages of regression and into the era of modernity. I have always been proud and content with legislation that set quotas for women representation in elected bodies. I wonder how this was not done in case of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. Under the pretext of achieving absolute freedom for candidacy and voting, it stands in the way of empowering Egyptian women from reaching the board of the Journalists Syndicate. Curiously, we are talking about a profession that has over the years been proud of the role played by Egyptian women in it; in case of Watani, women represent 60 per cent of our journalists. Let me stress that the time has come to reconsider the syndicate elections laws, and to take the initiative of assigning 50 per cent of the syndicate board seats for women, in appreciation for their historic contribution to journalism, and which is in no way less important than men’s contribution.
I have cited my aspirations and unanswered questions regarding the Journalists Syndicate board. Hopefully, they would be answered soon.
24 March 2023
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