CAIRO: A recent board decision prohibiting journalists at the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper to work for any other media organization incited protests and clashes with supporters of the decision Sunday.
Journalists for Al-Ahram, a group of journalists formed to protest the controversial decision, clashed with print house workers, engineers and managers who defended Morsi Attallah, Al-Ahram s chairman of the board, arguing that he has restructured his own pay to their benefit.
“After what Morsi Attallah did on Sunday we are not willing to engage in any form of negotiation with him, said Diaa Rashwan, spokesperson for the Journalists for Al-Ahram and Islamic studies expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Rashwan places the blame for the clashes on Attallah.
He explained that the group is working to attain three specific goals; the first of which is reconciliation with workers and mangers at Al-Ahram.
“We will do anything . to be on good terms once again with them, because we are all one family and we are doing this for the welfare of our organization, said Rashwan.
The group also wants to expell Attallah from Al-Ahram. “We are going to take all the possible measures to get rid of him, we will call on the President, engage in strikes, sit-ins . all the means you can imagine but within the limits of the constitution, he explained.
Journalists at Al-Ahram circulated flyers listing five major problems in the organization.
The group claims that Al-Ahram s revenues are not evenly distributed and that journalists are receiving the lowest salaries, forcing them to work for other media organizations.
The protestors also lamented the fact that Al-Ahram’s circulation is decreasing and blamed managerial and administrative decisions, which, they claim, had turned Al-Ahram daily newspaper into an advertising publication.
The flyer criticized the centralization of power, saying the chairman is the organization’s only decision maker. It also claimed that only “big names are promoted within the organization, robbing young journalists of the chance to grow.
Nepotism was also identified as one of Al-Ahram’s problems when it comes to hiring new staff.
Finally, the group condemned the recent decision prohibiting them from working for other organizations. They called on the board to suspend the decision and to refer it to the State Council to decide whether or not it is constitutional.
However, board member and economics expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Ahmed El-Naggar, denied that this was the sole responsibility of Attallah, since the board unanimously agreed on this decision. “It is a major conflict of interest to write in a competing publication . so this decision is perfectly fair, he told Daily News Egypt.
“At the same time, we understand that Al-Ahram is a state-owned newspaper which sometimes forces it to exclude certain opinions and views, therefore the decision still allows journalists to publish editorial pieces in other publications, just as long as this is not done on a regular basis and without a contract, he explained.
El-Naggar asserts that there will be an increase in the salaries in the near future. “As we were voting on this decision, we all agreed that there will be an improvement in journalists’ salaries and for it to be equivalent to those at Al Ahram Advertising Agency, which are approximately three times more, he said, adding that bonuses in 2005 were at LE 200 but that they have now reached LE 1,500.
El-Naggar accused the protestors of having a hidden agenda. “They just want to ignite the issue and create a crisis in the organization . Many of this group used to benefit greatly during Ibrahim Nafie’s tenure as chairman of Al-Ahram, so it is obvious why they are doing that and to whose interest, he said.
Louise Greiss, member of the Higher Press Council, objects to Attallah’s enforcing laws that have been put on the shelf long ago, especially that he should have retired by now.
“People are protesting because there is inequality in the distribution of salaries. The chief editors and board members are cashing in on all the money while the people who are really doing the work are not getting anything. It is time for the government to [spread equality] instead of saying there is no money to increase salaries, said Greiss.