Journalists reject ‘gagging’, found ‘defense front’
Khaled el-Balshy meeting with journalists in journalist syndicate - YOUM7/Maher Iskandar

CAIRO:  “The battle of journalism against state oppression never ends,” prominent journalist and syndicate member of the legislative committee Khaled el-Balshy said Wednesday, as nearly 50 journalists gathered at the Press Syndicate to witness and participate in the establishment of the Front to Defend Journalists and Freedoms.

In the mission statement Balshy proposed before discussions, he stated that the current situation is the “worst” in the history of Egyptian journalism, as colleagues are “assaulted both by the executive power and terrorist groups.”

The front’s announcement follows a decree approved Wednesday by the State Council’s legislative committee that will amend the Armed Forces’ law on army-related news publishing to increase restrictions.

According to the new text published by Akhbar Al-Youm, it is forbidden to publish or reveal any information related to the army without a written authorization by a senior army official.  Violators could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 50,000 EGP ($6,992.)

The rule concerning writing about the military was already on the books, but penalties varied from six months to five years in prison, and the fine did not exceed 500 EGP. It was also brief, while the new law above uses broader language concerning publishing and includes a wider scope.

The front’s journalists upheld their opposition to a policy they described as being “gagged from speaking,” in reference to a joint statement issued by state and private-owned newspapers’ editors-in-chief and President of the Press Syndicate Diaa Rashwan Oct. 26.

The statement said that journalists “should not doubt the performances of state institutions, on top of which come the military, police and judiciary. News about the Muslim Brotherhood’s protests and specifically students’ demonstrations should not be exaggeratedly reported.”

By Nov. 6, 614 journalists from different institutions and from the Press Syndicate signed a statement condemning “silencing” and the “one-way opinion imposition.”

“Facing terrorism with restrained media gives extremism a wider opportunity to destroy the nation. It keeps the public in darkness, and not able to know where the next hit is going to come from,” the statement read.

“Terrorism wins when it succeeds in taking over the media and the state fails when it complies with these purposes,” the statement added.

During Wednesday’s meeting, syndicate member Abu el-Maaty el-Sandouby further called for the necessity to officially oppose Rashwan by demanding he be referred to a disciplinary council. “The head of the syndicate does not speak in our names anymore,” Sandouby said.

Rashwan had claimed he had not signed the editors-in-chief statement, and only attended the meeting because he was invited, he told Al-Masry Al-Youm Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Emad el-Din Hussein, editor-in-chief of Al-Shorouq news wrote an article Thursday in which he said the statement was “misinterpreted” and that his newspaper would not crackdown on freedom of speech.

Field reporting has become extremely dangerous, Balshy said, more than 10 had died, dozens were injured and dozens more ended up behind bars. “The cherry on top is that there has been extensive pressure on journalists to practice self-censorship and arbitrary firing,” Balshy added.

The “Egyptian Initiative to Defend Journalists” coordinated by journalist and syndicate member of the legislative committee Hazem el-Malah demanded the government form a judicial committee to look into the cases of journalists’ killing since the January 25 Revolution in 2011.

“Every day we worry more about the threats facing journalists while doing their jobs and their being denied the right to information,” the initiative said in a press release on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

Journalists who met at the Press Syndicate Wednesday said they would continue to hold daily meetings to contribute with proposals to improve the condition of journalists.

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