The third continental congress of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) kicks off today in Casablanca, Morocco, with a call for organising journalists, building stronger unions and defending press freedom in Africa. The event which is hosted by the Syndicat national de la presse marocaine (SNPM) is attended by 38 delegates from 34 countries in Africa.
Journalists’ trade unions and associations affiliated to the International Federation of Journalists have formed since 2008 a continental body representing the interests of their members in all media sectors either electronic, broadcasting or print, working as reporters, presenters, producers, freelances or even editors at national, regional and international levels with the common objective to work to improve the social and professional rights of their members, be they full time or freelance.
Delivering the welcome address, Younes M’Jahed, president of SNPM said the congress is the occasion to consolidate the Federation of African Journalists. “FAJ is now a big African organization which has demonstrated on the ground its force to strengthen journalists’ unions and fight against all press freedom abuses and attacks against journalists,” said Younes M’Jahed. “African journalists’ unions are mature. They are working in difficult conditions but are resisting and defending their independence from all powers and foreign interference. That’s why we consider that the strengthening of union bodies is capital for our future.”
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said strengthening the pan-African solidarity among journalists is a very important objective, because Africa needs good journalists practicing good journalism, freely, safely and professionally.
Looking at FAJ’s report of activities and programme of work, Boumelha stated: “anybody who wants to know what you have achieved should read your document of work. They will of course realise the huge challenges you had to confront, from the issue of safety of journalists and impunity to criminalisation of journalists, the fight for better working conditions and the implementation of international labour standards”. “They will see at the same time, how with very limited resources FAJ has set out to lift and upgrade its democracy and structures, to increase its capacity to confront employers and governments and to break the walls between media sectors and between men and women”.
He called on FAJ members to consolidate their work on protecting the free flow of information which is a cornerstone for the IFJ’s mandate. “Indeed freedom of expression is imperative for sustaining development, consolidating democracy and initiating dialogue. And I am proud that you have taken it as a central battle line not only within FAJ but in many of your respective unions,” Boumelha added.
Everywhere in Africa there are still many obstacles to freedom of expression and free press. Boumelha highlighted the issue of censorship, violence, intimidation and harassment of journalists, pressure and threats, poor working conditions, lack of financial resources and training as areas where FAJ can make a difference, while assuring them of the IFJ’s unflinching support.
Approaching the issue of safety and security of journalists, Jim Boumelha said, in the past decade more than 2000 media professionals have been killed in the exercise of their profession, most of them victims of targeted killing and most of them local journalists working in their communities.
“The murderers of journalists are too seldom held accountable. For both killings in war zones and under other circumstances only very few cases are investigated. In even fewer cases the perpetrators are brought to justice. Indeed, impunity stands in the way of justice in about eighty percent of these cases, and as long as this pervasive culture of impunity exists, journalists will remain easy targets.”
On the other hand, the Minister for Communication of Morocco Honorable Mustapha El Khalfi, said the country’s commitment is to be a model for press freedom. “Africa’s future depends on the emergence of a strong, free and responsible press. This mission involves credible media and respect for press freedom,” El Khalfi said, highlighting the process in Morocco to reinforce press freedom and freedom of expression through a new legal framework provided by Article 27 of the country’s new Constitution which guaranties the right to access to information.
Delivering a speech to delegates, Mr. Driss Yazami, president of the national human rights Council of Morocco, said Africa has to take up two challenges: respect for human rights and freedom of expression, and the achievement of a sustainable development and social justice. “The role of journalists is at the cornerstone to meet these objectives and we need to join our efforts to better defend freedoms and the expansion of a human rights culture,” Yazami concluded.
Omar Faruck Osman, president of the Federation of African Journalists said the Federation has made tremendous gains since 2010. “We extended solidarity and support to ever combat ready unions and their members; we strongly campaigned for the safety of journalists and tackled the culture of impunity in Africa; we sought justice for victim journalists and their families; we helped strengthen the voice of journalists at the national regional and continental levels. Journalists in Africa and their unions are more organized than ever before. We struggled against all odds in the past three years. We fought to decriminalize journalism and the entire media work,” Osman said.
He nevertheless stated that FAJ is meeting in the middle of unprecedented crisis for journalists which threaten to undermine all the gains FAJ has made over the past three years. “Violent repression and the injustice against journalists are relentless. The number of journalists detained in Africa for their work since the last congress has increased. More than 70 % of journalists are working under precarious conditions. Ethical standards are declining due to external life-threatening pressure and lack of decent salaries”, he stated.
FAJ has a mandate to enforce trade union development in the media industry in Africa, to address professional matters, to protect and defend freedom of expression and information as well as journalists' human rights, as laid down in the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.
The conference ends on 31 March 2013 and will have to elect a new steering committee.
FAJ represents 50,000 journalists in 34 countries in Africa.