CAIRO: The Egyptian government has announced new measures to reduce spending on national newspapers which have incurred huge debts by limiting recruitment and introducing austerity measures.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said on Monday that there was “dire need” to cut costs and manage spending wisely in all national press institutions.
Madbouly stressed that the government will continue to support the institutions as long as they continue to achieve their objectives.
However, the government’s decision was derided by many journalists.
“This will probably lead to nothing in terms of the reforms the state seeks simply because it does not tackle the actual problem,” one journalist at Al-Ahram news agency who asked to remain anonymous said.
“The problem is that the state does not allow its newspapers to become independent and at the same time expects them to generate enough revenue to at least reach the breakeven point,” the journalist said.
The decision, announced by the cabinet earlier this week, has raised questions over the future of hundreds of journalists and employees who have been working for years with temporary contracts.
“It’s terrible for journalists because the move neglects their rights and basically asks them to bear the brunt of the state’s shortcomings,” another Al-Ahram journalist said.
“For instance, an Al-Ahram journalist who has been working for the newspaper for 10 years without being employed will now lose any hopes of being employed, so the newspaper will gradually lose competent and qualified journalists. Manpower is what matters if the state is to reform national newspapers in the red.”
The Syndicate of Journalists representative Diaa Rashwan said the public press is a strategic industry for the country that aims to protect national security. Rashwan said the press has two primary objectives: Provide a media service to citizens and defend the image of the homeland in the face of unconventional wars which target the minds of people.
“Applying what has been announced represents, in essence, a threat to the human power of the Egyptian national press which is a source of its distinctiveness and richness,” Rashwan added.
According to Arab News sources, tensions are boiling over at Al-Ahram especially that the newspaper is struggling to pay its annual end-of-year bonuses to its employees who feel their interests are not being taken into account.
In a statement, head of the authority which regulates state-run publications Karam Gabr said the move aims at helping institutions with limited resources meet their financial obligations toward employees with contracts, and stopping the addition of large numbers of staff to newspapers which would add further financial pressure on the press.
Gabr said papers are obliged to present a list of those working with temporary contracts and the duration of their service, as well as their job tasks in order to study the necessary steps that need to be taken.
Newspapers will still accept “young members who have technological capabilities, while taking into account the current circumstances regarding the inability of institutions to provide salaries to basic employees,” the statement said.
“The step aims at avoiding the mistakes that occurred in recent years in supplying institutions with large numbers [of employees] which has led to the current situation,” the statement added.
The authority will take measures in the next few days to implement a financial and administrative reform program and develop editorial content for state papers, Gabr said.