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Thomson Reuters : From Business News to Entertainment Business

by Abdul Ghani Mahfouz

Recently my lawyer brought me the bad news that I lost my case against Thomson Reuters in Cairo before a first degree court. The news was not a surprise for me as but was rather expected. As I previously pointed out, a foreign maid in the United States could fare better before the legal system than a journalist in Egypt.

I was forced to submit my resignation on February 2010 after 6 years 11 months in Thomson Reuters Office in Cairo, simply because I objected to the most heinous forms of corruption and labor violation you can ever imagine in a media organization.

Losing a suit may appear quite normal but the reasons are really bizarre. The main bone of contention in the suit was that I worked for the company full time but the Company insists my work was part time. The court referred the suit to the Experts Sector (The experts are the Justice Ministry civil servants assigned with technical consultancies during judicial investigations and trials) to ascertain the nature of employment and the validity of my claims.

The judges of the court, who issued their decision to reject my suit and burden me with the legal expenses, depended solely on the report of the Experts. However, the report with its details constitutes a scandal for the Egyptian legal system as well as the Canadian media giant.

The Company, in violation of the Egyptian labor law and all labor rules in the civilized world, did not sign contracts with editors it used to enslave in its Cairo Office. It was careful – in line with an advice of a senseless lawyer - to do that without leaving ant traces behind. There were no documents all, not a warning notice or bank receipt or even an email that could be understood to purport they are working for the Company.

In such a situation it would be necessary and inevitable to examine every related document carefully and thoroughly if we want to establish truth and achieve justice. But the Experts made a double mistake that turned everything upside down.

They did not try to check my emails or read the letters exchanged with the Company. They considered all documents, including the shift work schedule found in any news agency in the world, as “documents of unknown source”.

It seems to me that the issue of email was somehow complicated. The cyber world for a simple employee is an intangible world with no connection to the real one. As the progeny of an ancient tactile civilization, the Egyptians feel more at home with the papers particularly the papyrus ones.

The legal system left by Mubarak after 30 years is partly corrupt and thoroughly inefficient. It has been the subject to much debate and controversy after the revolution that even touched the highest court in the country. The judiciary, as all sectors of the bureaucracy, remains untouched by the post-revolution changes, despite the fact that a real transformation of the judiciary is quite necessary if not inevitable.

Apart from the legal tussle and its result, reading the statements of the Company in the report doesn’t leave any doubt the media giant is not preoccupied at all with transparency and credibility.

Not only that, the Company introduces pieces of comedy that would challenge the talents of any unwary playwright.

“As for the financial compensation for the balance of leave days (that I did not enjoy), the irregular labors have no annual leave. Like a lawyer or a legal adviser of a company, he used to come to the agency to receive the papers to be translated and go. Upon completion of the material he would return translation to the Company and receive his wages, which means he is not entitled to annual leave”, the report quotes the Company.

One may wonder if a news agency in the 21st century would work in such a manner?. And what kind of news that have to wait for such a long time to be taken back by the translator and broadcast?.

Had the Company asked me for a simple advice, I would have told them to claim simply that I worked from home through a broad band internet connection. It would have been at least more credible.

Further, the investigators did not ask the Company to introduce any documents to substantiate their claims. The report states explicitly “the lawyer of the Company did not submit any documents to the court or to us”.

How far is credibility essential for a media Company?. Would Thomson Reuters act in any Western country as it did in Egypt? These may be questions left for the Company to answer.

I have no alternative but to appeal the decision of the court even if I have to fight for years. I lost one stage of litigation, but the Company is now made aware its actions shall always be under spot.

However, I’m glad that soon after I started to sue them, the Company has been forced to give contracts to all their enslaved editors, of whom some spent over ten years literally forgotten in the place. The official contract necessitates automatically paying taxes, social insurance and employment guarantee.

An Apology and Correction

In may article ‘”the white Man Burden” still Has Its Appeal in Post-Revolution Egypt’ published here on August 10, 2012, I wrote that Mr. H. recently brought his estranged wife to work with him in the place. But the lady in question is in fact not his former wife but a cousin of his latest spouse (14th graph).  I deeply apologize for the mistake of my source and thank dailycensored for publishing the correction.

Notwithstanding my deep respect for both ladies, the correction proves once more what I reiterated before that the place is managed or rather mismanaged as a kind of family business where friends, relatives and cronies can find unique opportunities to the exclusion of others.

Abdul Ghani Mahfouz is a Cairo-based researcher and writer who works as a freelance journalist and translator.

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© 2012 Daily Censored

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