Since his first beginning at ‘Rose al Youssef’ national newspaper, Khaled al Balshy, a board member of the journalists’ Syndicate, has been striving hard to shed light on the issues that are underreported by Egyptian media, such as the labor issues which found their way back into the national newspapers after years of absence, negligence, or marginalization by being relegated for so long to the pages of some leftist opposition newspapers.
Through his independent experience, which began with ‘al-Dustour’ privately owned newspaper, and then with ‘al-Badeel’ weekly newspaper, he succeeded in drawing a professional line different from the rest of his generation. He worked on expanding grant opportunities for young journalists, to come out from the investigation sections which he spearheaded a group of journalists whom are now managing news and investigation sections at many of the most widely read daily papers in Egypt.
His devotion to the independent journalism away from the control of the state and businessmen pushed him to commence a number of online journalism experiments which got varying degrees of success. And with his success in gaining the confidence of wide sector of young journalists to become member in the board of their syndicate, the professional and syndicate issues came to the top priority of his list, to establish a Defending Journalists Front which was able to impose a different agenda that may contribute in resorting the absent professional role of the Journalists’ Syndicate.
‘Al-Sawt al Hurr’ interviewed Khaled al-Balshi to discuss some issues related to the journalism independence, the professional role of the syndicate and its anticipated role in the National Media Council which is expected to be established according to the amended constitution.
What are the most journalistic topics that you cherish?
My first investigative report was about the university guards, when I was a fourth-year College student. The reason behind choosing this topic was the university guards who were violating the students’ rights daily, and when my professor read the report, he laughed and told me “You are attacking the supreme authority of the university” and gave me a full mark, but he did not publish the report. My second story was about the privatization of the General Authority for Health Insurance and was published in the leftist magazine, and it was the first time in my life to get a bonus for a story and I got 50 EGP. I wrote about torture and the Palestinian issue and I wrote about unemployment as well, and it was the first time for such story to be tackled from a psychological angle of the unemployed rather than numbers and statistics, as well as my story which took the Syndicate’s award about using ‘Asbestos’ which is harmful to human health, and led to enacting new law prevents the use of these types of minerals.
In 1999, I almost lose my job at ‘Rozal Youssef’, as a result of a campaign I launched against Mubarak’s fourth mandate, in addition to other exclusive stories with ‘al-Badil’, campaigns about selling lands and Gamal Mubarak’s attempt to control Egypt’s economy. In 2005, I was the first one to write about the proxy torture in Egypt, which was published in “al-Dostor” at the time, and there was story about Gamal Mubarak’s business and he replied himself to the story and I then continued the second episode of the story but he did not reply back.
There was a crucial article about the sinking of Al-Salam 98 ferry, and it was reason to stop writing for a while, because the scene was different for me, it was divided between the sinking of the ferry and Mubarak and his son who were at the same time in the stadium celebrating a football match, and I said at the time : ‘Kerbala came once again with thousand of Muawiyah and thousand of Yazeed”, in reference to Battle of Karbala, and mother of one of the victims called me and said “ You restored my right, my son.”
Is al-Balshi on a date with a new press experience?
Journalism is inherently a leftist profession, because it always looks for the best and there is always the best, even in the freest societies, and there are more than 55 newspapers talk about the beauty and optimism, and it’s important to be there a different voice. And we are now preparing for this voice by starting again, and during my time with ‘al-Badil’ website, there was a defining battle and now we are fighting uphill battle, because it’s difficult to fight a battle basing on others accounts, and we have no fear of the idea that claims that any opposing voice is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, because my stance has always been clear during the MB’s tenure and before.
What about founding the Defending Journalists and Liberties Front?
I joined the board of Journalists’ Syndicate in a difficult period of its history. The board withstood difficult responsibilities during this phase, and I am personally satisfied in the context of the potential, the ability of the syndicate and the general will of journalists.
The front looks like the Revolutionary Road Front in the Journalists Syndicate. And the new is that the Defending Journalists and Liberties Front, was born by strong action. We may establish through it something bigger and its importance came from the front’s decision to get out of the limits set by the union work and at the same time to not contradict between the front and the syndicate. We are keen on confirming that the front is part of the syndicate and the union work does not mean to be member of the syndicate’s board, but perhaps changing the syndicate’s conditions and laws could be the key for a great role for the union work, because the problem for now is that the work under the syndicate’s laws makes it a quasi-governmental, but freeing the syndicate from these laws and freeing the media system may have different decisions.
What are the demands of the Journalists’ Syndicate regarding the laws and legislations which are currently being prepared about media and journalism?
We have a constitutional document allows us to espouse new media system, part of it is based on refining all legislations related to imprisonment in cases of breaching publishing, which establishes system free from the state authority, and attempting to make media available for all people through issuing newspapers freely, there is no free journalist without free press.
Is the Journalists’ Syndicate involved in the creation of the National Media Council?
In spite of the remarks of the former Minister for Media concerning the creation of the council, there is no clear legislations nor are decisions taken regarding the National Media Council. And no contacts took place with us on the council. However, the journalists and media professionals need to realize that as long as there is an authority in charge there will be control by this authority to stifle liberties, and they have to realize and be aware of that. And when the journalists have their own resources or get allowances from the state, the journalist will become free away from authority.
Why did you slam the statement released by Chamber of Audiovisual Media Industry and Egyptian Radio and TV Union?
I saw the statement from two perspectives; the first is that a team wants to have a place on the media arena to confirm its monopoly of media services. And the second expresses the authority’s will in restricting the journalists’ liberty and the disaster is that some journalists got involved in the first one, that’s why it was necessary to fight this battle and not to be tolerated.
Interviewed by Ihab Saber
Translated by: Muhammad Ghamarawy