State-press relationship in need of reconciliation through rule of law

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In the past week, the parliament launched a campaign against two renowned press and media workers. First, parliamentary speaker Ali Abdul Aal slammed Egypt’s long-established Al-Ahram institution, sparking angry reactions from its chairperson and journalists. Second, Abdul Aal brought famous journalist Ibrahim Eissa to be investigated by the prosecution.

In both cases, Abdul Aal was just discontent with the press pointing out flaws in the parliament’s performance, and it is not the first display of parliamentary dissatisfaction with the media’s criticism. It is the same with many of the state bodies, which reflect a troubled relationship between the press and the state, for which journalists continue to face imprisonment despite constitutional guarantees of press freedoms.

Journalists differ on which side is to be blamed. Such a division was mostly revealed during the crisis of May 2015 between the Press Syndicate and the Ministry of Interior. To date, the trial of the syndicate’s leader and his deputies continues to be a source of controversy in the press community.

Al-Ahram’s military affairs correspondent, Gihane El-Shaarawy, argued that the press is the fourth state power after the legislative, executive, and judicial authorities, given its “significant moral effect on the people.”

She stated that since all institutions of the state—including the press—have a common goal in protecting their homeland, they should be equally independent.

As far as pushing forward the role of the press in uncovering corruption, raising awareness, and being the crucial link between people and the state, El-Shaarawy believes that the press “lost its vision in the recent period, and its leaders engaged in political conflict with the state, resulting in losing its credibility before the people.”

Moreover, she was of the opinion that some journalists have “damaged the profession” and that the syndicate fell back on providing professional trainings, monitoring journalists, and penalising violators.

El-Shaarawy blamed press and media workers for the deterioration of relations with the state. When asked if the state had any duties to fulfil towards the press and media, especially in terms of legislations, El-Shaarawy once more put the responsibility on press leaders, whom in her opinion should objectively present solutions and reform initiatives to the state.

Meanwhile, current Press Syndicate leader Yehia Qallash believes that enforcing the rule of law is the solution. “It is very simple really, if every party respected the law.” He explained that press freedom was not absolute, but rather regulated by the law.

But Qallash bears in mind that, at the current moment, the press and media have demands from the state.

“We have more than one article in the Constitution guaranteeing press freedom. Yet, we are still in need of the legislations that transform those principles into reality,” he told Daily News Egypt.

According to Qallash, several legislations enabling the press to work are pending and delayed by the government, including the law on free circulation of information, a unified media and press law, the abolition of imprisonment in publishing crimes, and the formation of new press and media institutions.

As for syndicate president candidate Abdel Mohsen Salama, he supported El-Shaarawy’s approach of the press establishing good relations with the state. “For one thing, the state covers the syndicate’s budget. Also, we need the state to negotiate legislations.”

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