Yehia Qallash, current president of the Press Syndicate and candidate for the head position in the ongoing syndicate elections, said that the electoral battle was fierce and noted illegitimate practices, such as the spreading of rumours and some media campaigns aimed at “distorting the image of the syndicate.”
“The struggle to defend the syndicate’s dignity and law against assault is being used by some as a means to distort our work amid claims that we have mixed syndicate roles and political views,” Qallash told journalists at the Daily News Egypt and its sister newspaper Al-Borsa in a Sunday visit during his electoral campaign.
Qallash dismissed claims that the syndicate failed to properly manage the crisis with the Ministry of Interior following a police raid on the syndicate in order to arrest two journalists on 1 May, resulting in Qallash’s trial along with two of his deputies on grounds of harbouring wanted suspects.
“We didn’t create the crisis; it was imposed on the syndicate but it’s important to highlight that the syndicate’s president’s role is not to arrest journalists but to protect them,” he said, adding that the “violation of the syndicate’s law was unacceptable.”
Qallash argued that the Press Syndicate, like any other institution in the state, is subject to disagreement with other entities. “But remember that I represent journalists to state bodies and not the opposite; I do not represent state bodies to journalists,” he stated.
As so, Qallash said “we will not apologise for taking a stance against the assault on the syndicate. On the contrary, we earned respect for defending journalists’ dignity.”
Yet, Qallash told journalists that as the syndicate represents a wide range of journalists and interests, the crisis did not distract the syndicate from pursuing other roles, including obtaining funds from the state and other entities—a total of EGP 63m that was added to the syndicate’s budget.
The budget allocations were aimed at improving services presented to journalists, including the health insurance system, pension increases, and loans. “This is in addition to a developed training institute being built.”
In return, journalists inquired about services such as the housing units, to which Qallash responded by admitting that the syndicate had faced problems in paying the money for the lands allocated to housing projects and that there were solutions in the process including obtaining a part of the state’s social housing project.
Moreover, journalists inquired about problems related to the work relationship between journalists and news institutions, including the problem of arbitrary dismissals, something which has taken place several times in the past couple of years in a collective manner.
Qallash said that one way to ensure journalists’ rights within their institution was the “successful imposition of the unified contract in which the syndicate became a third party.”
Moreover, he said that the syndicate has begun implementing a system requiring newspapers to provide lists of all journalists to the syndicate, and in case of failures, journalists who were left out could complain to the syndicate and have themselves registered individually.
“There will always be arbitrary dismissals, but that is what the syndicate is here for,” he said, explaining that they are trying to stop the wave of collective firing, and that they have stopped the dismissal of 250 journalists at the privately-owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.
“Our profession is full of problems and many of them require legislative reform,” Qallash said, mentioning the outdated syndicate law currently being reviewed to be presented for dialogue among journalists, as well as laws on circulation of information and abolishment of imprisonment in publishing crimes.
“We need legislative change to match the constitution and redefine the journalism profession to include digital journalists,” Qallash concluded.
The Press Syndicate called for a public assembly on 3 March but the legal quota required to proceed with the elections was not met, resulting in a postponement to 17 March.
Qallash awaits the verdict of an appeals court regarding his previous sentence of two years in prison.