By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: About 300 journalists of state-run daily Al-Ahram apologized Wednesday for the paper’s “unprofessional” coverage of the demonstrations that toppled the president.
In a press conference at the headquarters of Al-Ahram, they also asked for the resignation of the Al-Ahram daily editor-in-chief Osama Saraya and chairman of the board, Abdel Moniem Saeid.
Journalist Karem Yehia said that 285 Al-Ahram journalists wrote and signed a public apology to the people on Sunday and wanted it published, but the editorial team refused.
“Their refusal to publish our statement is a violation of our freedom of expression and the rights of fellow journalists,” Yehia said.
“The chief editor of Al-Ahram and the chairman of board get to publish their opinions on the front page, while 285 journalists are prevented from publishing their statement.”
Yehia said that around 1,500 journalists work for Al-Ahram.
According to Yehia, the editors told them publishing the apology would undermine the paper’s credibility.
But the journalists weren’t convinced. “The unethical, unprofessional editorial policies used in the coverage of the revolution and years before that is what affected Al-Ahram’s credibility,” Yehia said.
Yehia also accused the editors in Al-Ahram of attempting to “erase history and alter their reputation,” through deleting all their previous commentaries that supported Mubarak’s regime from Al-Ahram’s official website.
“The change in the editorial policies in Al-Ahram is merely a change based on the change of authority in the country,” Alaa El-Attar, journalist in Al-Ahram, told Daily News Egypt. “Al-Ahram has merely switched masters and the people know that.”
“We want to express our true regret for what we did by publishing our [apology] after we’ve seen Al-Ahram newspaper being burnt and stomped on in Tahrir Square,” El Attar said.
“We were all complicit in the coverage of Al-Ahram whether through actual participation or silence,” he added.
Journalists said they had for decades been “hostage to senior managers, chosen unprofessionally, on the basis of loyalty to the leader, his family, the ruling party and the security services.”
A number of employees from the administrative side participated in the press conference to highlight “corruption.”
“One employee was convicted and deemed unfit to work in the financial department by Al-Ahram’s legal affairs unit and yet he was promoted to be the deputy director of the financial department,” Faten Barakat, director of cost management in Al-Ahram, said.
A couple of journalists who were against the press conference intervened in a bid to sway Al-Ahram journalists from their demands and an argument erupted.
“There was an editorial published in Al-Ahram on Monday titled ‘For the people’ that included an apology from Al-Ahram to the readers for its coverage,” journalist Mohamed Al-Masry said.
“I do respect their demands,” Al-Masry said. “But this is not the right time for all the government employees and institutions to start having strikes and protests and call for a change in management, which hinders work and productivity.”
However, the journalists were not swayed. “Al-Ahram committed a crime against the people in Tahrir and the Egyptian people are the real owners of Al-Ahram,” journalist Osama Al-Reheimy said.
“When the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram is against the people, then he must go,” Al-Reheimy said.
“We want editors capable of running the paper based only on transparency, integrity and objectivity, away from corruption,” he added.
Egyptian rights group, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said national newspaper editors should be sacked and replaced with journalists “who respect the mission of the press.”
It said editors at Al-Ahram, Rose Al-Youssef, Al-Akhbar, Al-Gomhuria, Al-Mussawar, and October magazine should leave immediately and accused them of switching their devotion from Mubarak to the junta that replaced him.
“Editors of state-owned newspapers supported the dictator Mubarak and made a God out of him. Now they are practicing the same cheap hypocrisy with the military council,” ANHRI director Gamal Eid said. –Additional reporting by AFP