Globalising Social Justice, Democracy and Press Freedom - International Federation of Journalists Statement to the World Economic Forum (New York) and the Social Forum (Porto Alegre) January/February 2002

Journalists and media staff, like other working people in most of the world are getting a bad deal in these first years of the 21st century. Employment security has fallen while the share of wages is declining relative to profits.

Inequalities are widening – between poor and rich, between women and men and between the developing and the industrialised countries. Poverty is worsening while wealth is accumulating and concentrating as never before. In all of this the globalisation of media is bringing a new world power in the field of information and communication, and with it new pressure on pluralism and the scope for democratic debate.

There is a growing democracy deficit, as national policy options are constrained by global markets that often produce greater competition among governments than they do among enterprises. Democratic governance barely exists. And where global governance and binding rules are beginning to emerge, it is for the purpose of protecting property rights in the interest of capital rather than the rights of labour and the need to bring people into the debate about the future.

The absence or weakness of democratic, global institutions to defend the common good, particularly in protection of people’s human rights including freedom of expression, means, in effect, that power is shifting from the elected governments to the unelected leaders of global capital. Among the most influential of them are the handful that control global media corporations.

Everywhere there is a growing sentiment that decision-making has become too distant from individuals. This is true for millions of sub-contracted workers, including the hundreds of thousands who work in the freelance sector of journalism, mass media and communications.

It is also true in political life where even the simple act of voting seems to many to be unrelated to their daily lives. The wholesale and irresponsible privatisation of vital public services including public service broadcasting - part of the definition and construction of a decent society - aggravates this alienation by destroying the link between affordable, decent, equitable and quality services, and political will and participation.

But more and more people, including a growing number of governments and firms, recognise that business as usual is not good enough. They know that although unregulated globalisation is working for some, it is not working for far too many people.

Markets do not clean up after themselves. They do not automatically produce justice. They do not require the respect of human rights to prosper or function. How do ordinary people participate in an open, pluralist debate about the future when mass media manipulate the discussion through the development of media systems designed to promote the interests of commercial corporate interests and are not inclusive?

History shows that the trade union movement, professional workers and groups within civil society working together can help fill the moral vacuum created by market forces. They are instruments of the will of the people and of workers and become their lever to move the world - to change the distribution of wealth and power inside countries and beyond.

Journalists and media staff as professional people are one of the very few actors capable of transcending the divisions that are polarising our lives today and are, therefore, among the building blocks of a better world. The world journalists’ movement with the international trade union movement reaffirms its conviction that respect for trade union rights is essential for social and economic development with social justice.

We carry a united message to Porto Alegre and to New York. Trade unions are part of civil society just as they are part of industry. Free journalism and social justice in media are essential for democracy. We are willing to engage in dialogue with employers just as we are ready to negotiate with them, while, at the same time, working together with others in the community. Our role is to advance and defend the interests of workers by building alliances with those who share our views, and through debate and argument with those who do not. That is the reason for our simultaneous presence in both of these forums.

Global public debate, even if the participation in that debate is too limited, is vital. The world cannot be neatly divided into those who are for globalisation and those who are against it. We are against the neo-liberal agenda that has imposed unbalanced globalisation. We will press the World Economic Forum to address the need to globalise social justice and to create worldwide respect for freedom of the press.

At the same time, we will contribute in the World Social Forum to finding constructive approaches to democratising globalisation and the use of the media in the interests of all working people. In the reality of the lives of families and communities, the social and the economic have been, remain, and will always be intimately linked.

Our goal is to win support for a world that is free from poverty and unemployment, from discrimination and injustice, from terrorism in all its forms, and from the threat of war and oppression. We want a world with full democracy and respect for human rights. We want a world where corporations, large and small, respect the rights of their workers and unions, and the societies in which they operate. We want transparency and openness in the process of globalisation. We want all the institutions to open their doors to full public scrutiny and to allow access by journalists and others to their deliberations.

But these things will not happen unless there is a commitment to social justice and democracy, to freedom of the press and to open government.

We are convinced that another world is possible. That is world journalism’s and global labour’s vision of the 21st century. That is what the IFJ, on behalf of its national unions in more than 100 countries, is calling for in Porto Alegre and in New York.

This statement has been issued by the International Federation of Journalists in liaison with the Global Union Federations including the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).