WAZ and EFJ Agree Agenda for Change in Ground-breaking Social Dialogue

The historic international framework agreement signed

between the EFJ and the German-based WAZ media group, which has holdings in

Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania , Bulgaria and Austria, came to

life this week (14 May 2008) with the holding of the first EFJ-WAZ Group Forum between

company and union representatives from across the region.
The agreement, which was signed last year, is the first of

its kind for journalists. The company and the EFJ have agreed to work together

to improve quality in journalism, to jointly confront threats to press freedom,

and to improve working conditions.
The results of the first meeting - held in the historic

surroundings of the Zollverein coal mine complex in Essen which is now a UNESCO

world heritage site - were welcomed by Bodo Hombach, the group Chief Executive

and Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary, who led the discussions.
They include:

- Establishment

of a regional council of ombudsmen representing each of the company's

titles to examine complaints and resolve disputes;

- Discussion

on the adoption of a group-wide code of conduct based upon the code

already in place for the WAZ German newspapers;

- Launch

later this year of a Courage in Journalism Award for the countries in

which WAZ is operating;

- Preparation of the group-wide contract

covering labour rights for the company's journalists.

  1. The meeting also agreed to keep in place an existing steering committee to prepare regular newsletters on behalf of management and unions for circulation within the group.
    There will be an extensive consultation within the company following the meeting on follow up actions.
    "This is a ground-breaking start of Europe's first international social dialogue in journalism," said Aidan White. "The management and unions now have to take this challenging agenda forward by making sure we deliver on our promises."
    Bodo Hombach, who himself proposed the two-year objective of a group-wide labour contract, told the meeting: "The future of journalism is in quality, but it is not the role of the manager to define what is quality journalism. His role is to provide the best conditions for journalists to do their work well."
    Since the agreement was signed last July the company and the EFJ have established jointly a dialogue with the European Commission dealing with EU policy as it affects enlargement and the states where WAZ is operating. At a meeting in Brussels in March the EU said it was ready to work with WAZ and the EFJ in challenging corruption, hate-speech and impunity.
    Last year Bodo Hombach and Aidan White met with Bulgarian President Gueorgui Parvanov, to defuse a confrontation over an interpretation of the Batak massacre and its role in Bulgarian history which sparked controversy, involving Bulgarian media including WAZ titles.
    "We welcome this open and fresh approach from the WAZ group," said White. "We hope that now others will follow. It is time all media companies working across borders in Europe recognised that building partnership in the workplace is vital to solving the problems facing media in these challenging times."

More information from Marc Gruber, EFJ Co-Director. marc.gruber@ifj.org