Representatives and leaders of member unions of the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) have called for renewed commitment to the safety and labor rights of journalists in the sub-region.
The call was made during a two-day conference in Cotonou, Benin, from 22 -23 July, 2014 in collaboration with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).
The Conference, which brought together about 20 participants, under the theme: “Improving Conditions of Service to Boost Quality Journalism,” highlighted the disparaging wages and the negative impact that it has on the output of journalists.
Participants acknowledged with concern that the poor working condition of journalists is affecting the quality of journalism in the region and vowed to intensify their advocacy and engagement with all stakeholders to take collective action to save the industry.
Speaking at the opening of the conference, WAJA President, Peter Quaqua lamented that ten years after the adoption of the ECOWAS/WAJA Collective Bargaining Framework, not more than five countries have succeeded in changing the sad state of journalists’ plight in the region.
The WAJA President described Journalism as too important and fascinating profession to be left to chance. “We must be intentional about where we want to take it.”
He observed that the problems generally remain the same, adding: “this dire situation has been linked to the growing ethical failures in the field, thus posing a threat to press freedom.”
“While fighting against the external factors that militate against the free press, “it is imperative to correspondingly confront the internal challenges” he said.
In his keynote address, the Technical Advisor to the Minister of Communication, Information and Telecommunications of Benin, Marcel Tchobo, declared that journalism is a critical pillar for development and democracy.
Mr. Tchobo said those practicing journalism should be given freedom and protection as a means of strengthening democracy.
In a similar vein, the Regional Coordinator of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Constantin Grund, called on journalists to continue to strive in their work in order to contribute positively towards national development.
He said that his office had been working with the union in Benin for a very long time in programmes that are geared towards improving the working conditions of journalists as well as their quality of work.
He assured delegates at the conference that FES will continue to open its doors to journalists and pledged his organization’s continuous support to the development of the media in the region.
The Senior Program Officer of the IFJ Africa Office, Pa Louis Thomasi, painted a gloomy picture of the conditions of African journalists, while delivering his solidarity greetings at the opening ceremony.
He underlined the difficult challenges and dangers journalists are subjected to on the job. He said “journalists are harassed, intimidated, held incommunicado and killed with impunity.
He called on the government in the region to ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to justice.
At the end of the two – day Conference, a Resolution was issued calling on West African Governments, through the ECOWAS authority, to reaffirm their commitment and support for the safety and social rights of journalists as well as improving the legal, economic and political environments for the smooth operation of the media in the sub-region.
While reminding the ECOWAS authority of the need to, “Defend workers’ rights on freedom of association and the right to organize as well as the implementation of labour laws that are in conformity with internationally recognised standards”, the Resolution also challenged media owners to respect the bargaining rights of journalists and take steps to end all forms of salary discrimination in the workplace based on gender.
At the same time, participants encourage member unions and/or associations to act with the utmost urgency to setup and strengthen effective self-regulatory regimes that will monitor and arbitrate complaints arising from the performance of journalists to safeguard the public interest.
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WAJA represents 16 journalists unions in West Africa