#IFJTunis Philippe Leruth: "You have the future of IFJ in your hands"

Philippe Leruth delivered his last speech today as President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to the 254 delegates meeting at the World Congress in Tunis.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Dear Friends,

I would like first of all to welcome you to Tunis for this first Congress of the International Federation of Journalists organized on the African continent and in the Arab world. It is therefore a congress that will mark the history of the IFJ, but it will not be a past congress quite the contrary: the reflection on journalism in the digital age focuses on the future of a profession faced with the emergence on the Web of many so-called journalists, against whom professional journalists must distinguish themselves by their rigour and reliability. Hence, in particular, the updating of our ethical charter, the result of a collective effort for which I thank the authors.

We are here as hosts of the Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens to which, on behalf of all of you, I would like to express our gratitude.

Organising a congress is a huge task, and our friends of the SNJT have worked hard to achieve it: the unanimous confidence that the IFJ Executive Committee placed in them at its Moscow meeting in April 2017 was well placed. The IFJ Executive Committee wanted to express its support for the positive development of press freedom (its only political agenda) in a country where the Arab spring was born and which has given it a positive response, even though there are of course still many problems to be solved. Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Dear Friends,

The IFJ Triennial Congress has a dual function. It allows the outgoing Executive Committee to report on its management, and outlines the working lines of the future IFJ Executive Committee for the next three years. The reports that have been made available to you already give a broad overview of these three years. I will not go into all the details of what these documents contain, but I will highlight various aspects of them by answering a simple question: is the International Federation of Journalists, whose keys I will hand over, in better condition than the one I took over as director three years ago? At the African level, the answer is undoubtedly positive.

As you will recall, in 2016, the IFJ's African member unions were deeply divided, and I had set myself the priority of bringing them together again. Especially after the decision to hold this congress in Tunisia: the African Federation of Journalists could not present itself divided.

The process was long and involved a lot of energy. I had to explain to friends, who had supported me in Angers, that once elected with their support, I became the president of all IFJ member unions, whether or not they supported my candidacy, and that this was the first condition for reaching a compromise.

It also required the help of many good wills. In particular those of the African members of the IFJ Executive Committee, and colleagues of the Moroccan National Press Union, who set up a conciliation meeting that made it possible to take a major step forward.

The Khartoum Congress last December crowned these efforts: 32 of the IFJ's 36 African member unions joined or participated in it. And the election of the new FAJ Steering Committee demonstrated that reconciliation in Africa is a given. This reconciliation was then consolidated by the renunciation, by our Ivorian member union, of the setting up of a counter-congress project that would have resurrected old demons. Another important achievement was that we were able to make the IFJ's voice heard at the United Nations to denounce, with partners we have federated on this subject (European Broadcasting Union, European Association of Commercial TV, World Association of Newspaper Publishers, International Federation of Trade Unions representing workers in the media, entertainment, arts and sports sectors), the scandalous impunity enjoyed by murderers of journalists. In 2016, the year of the Angers Congress, 93 journalists were murdered worldwide. Since then, 192 sisters and brothers who were victims of killers have been added to this list, including 16 since the beginning of this year.I ask you to respect some INSTANTS OF SILENCE IN THEIR REMEMORY I add to this tribute the names of Sofien Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, our Tunisian colleagues who disappeared in Libya and that of Istac Mokhtar, Mauritanian journalist who disappeared in Syria with his Lebanese cameraman, Samir Kassab, and his Syrian driver. 

I also add to this the Italian journalists who live under permanent police protection in the face of the mafia death threats against them and I denounce the will of the Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, to take away what he calls a privilege.  

I also have a thought for all the journalists detained in the world simply because they are fulfilling their mission: their list is unfortunately far too long for me to mention all their names here. I will simply mention, by way of example, that of Mahmoud Hussein, an Al-Jazeera journalist who has been detained in Egypt for more than eight hundred days. Not all murdered journalists die in countries at war, far from it: nine out of ten murdered journalists are local journalists. And above all, nine out of ten murders of journalists remain unpunished in the world. If their death is a scandal in itself, the impunity of their murderers is one, much greater.

The IFJ has been fighting against this unacceptable impunity since the IFJ colloquium on this subject held in Brussels in November 2016. This is the basis for the draft convention that we want to see adopted by the United Nations.

It is a remarkable text, written by Professor Carmen Draghici of the University of London, whom I warmly thank for her commitment to us. He wants the specificity of journalists to be recognized as targets of potential murderers and for serious investigations to be carried out into all murders of journalists. We are not naive: this will not be enough to stop the arms of all the murderers of journalists. And we know that many investigators can be hindered. But if we can reduce this rate of impunity for murderers of journalists, at least justice will be done to a number of their victims. And if this saves even one journalist's life a year, this work will not have been in vain. It remains to obtain the support of States for this text: some Governments have already expressed it, such as the Tunisian Government, which I thank; the Palestinian Authority, which heads a group of nearly 140 States; and the Government of Morocco, which chairs the African Union. Italy, Mexico, Pakistan and Peru have also done so. But we need to rally more countries still: this will be the subject of one of the motions presented at this Congress by the IFJ Executive Committee, which will encourage you to mobilise all of you in your respective countries, to convince your governments of the accuracy and necessity of this fight. Other reasons for satisfaction during these three years of mandate include the ratification of the Declaration on Freedom of the Media in the Arab World by six countries, including Tunisia, and, two weeks ago, Mauritania, the latest country to date.

This is also an IFJ initiative with its member unions in the Arab world. This text is worth reading: it assumes a number of commitments on the part of the States, but also places employers and journalists in front of their respective responsibilities. Internally, I would also note the stabilisation of the IFJ's regional offices, particularly following problematic situations that we inherited and which led to a heavy and unexpected expense in Buenos Aires. And on this level, I have had the feeling of preaching in the desert more than once and sometimes even that personal enmities complicated a problem born of political differences to which were added the financial difficulties of the union in question.

I remain convinced that, especially in its financial situation, the IFJ would have everything to lose from a break with one of its members who, even with a half contribution, remains its fifth or sixth largest funder. Because the worrying point of our balance sheet remains the financial situation of the IFJ. As a reminder, three years ago, this situation was described to us as "fragile". It was so much so that at its first meeting, a few months later, the Executive Committee adopted a stability plan presented by the Secretary General that included the reduction of working time and staff remuneration. I would like to highlight the unwavering commitment of the staff both in Brussels and in the regional offices for the defence of journalists' rights around the world, and I would like to thank all its members very warmly on your behalf. It is difficult when you don't get close to them to measure the energy of the task deployed by all of our staff. This stability plan also required a readjustment of the continental contributions, which had increased dramatically before we took office. It enabled us to close the 2017 and 2018 financial years in a green light. But at the end of last year, the Secretary General told us that it would no longer be enough in the future. It is therefore a survival plan that was adopted by the Executive Committee at its last meeting, and which once again puts our staff under pressure, since staff costs are the main factor.

which we have also kept strictly under control. But this plan also provides for an increase in revenues, and in particular in our contribution revenues.

This effort has already been undertaken for more than two years by the treasurer and staff and has paid off. I also thank them for all this work. But more is needed.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Dear Friends,

The IFJ Executive Committee, its Administrative Committee and in particular its Treasurer and General Secretaries are responsible for the management of the IFJ, BUT YOU HAVE THE FUTURE OF THE IFJ IN YOUR HANDS.

Forgive my somewhat direct tone, but the IFJ is a 93-year-old woman and her health is poor. We all have to help him recover. What we have seen in recent years is a steady erosion of revenues, both membership fees and projects. And this is also your responsibility as members. Projects, you can, you must help to find them with funding opportunities, rather than waiting for a project to come out of the blue.

I speak from experience: I myself found funding in Belgium for a project to train journalists to cover an election campaign conducted a few months ago in the DR Congo. And the success of this program gives us hope for further funding from the same authority. Dues reduction: the reductions in membership announced by some of our major member unions are understandable. Because the media crisis is resulting in a reduction in the number of journalists. But it must also encourage them to recruit new members, and some do: in Denmark, the trend has been reversed this year... On the other hand, and I have already said this more than once publicly: I cannot conceive of unions and associations of journalists not collecting any contributions from their members.

The professional and trade union defence of our rights has always involved pooling resources, however weak they may be. WE MUST RETURN TO THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF OUR ACTION. A union that is totally dependent on external funding, the IFJ or projects, cannot claim to be independent or representative if it does not demand a minimum contribution from its members.

I therefore hope that this congress will be doubly historic: first of all because, I repeat, it is the first to be held on the African continent and in the Arab world. Then, I hope so, because it will initiate the recovery of the IFJ as an institution Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers and Friends, Dear Friends, Dear Friends, At the conclusion, allow me to make some brief personal considerations It has been an honour for me to preside over you for three years. And over the years, I have met a number of you in their countries, and I have been able to see how many of you in all latitudes are committed to defending the rights of journalists. 

However, I am not running for a second term, first because you remember, in Angers, I ran for only one term, and I am used to fulfilling my commitments.

Then I see the day I leave my profession as a journalist approaching. And it is not good for a retired journalist to preside over their International Federation.

Last but not least, it is always preferable to leave a mandate when you always wish to exercise it: it is in principle a guarantee that you will assume it to the very end of your best. I hope I have succeeded. I now declare this Tunis Congress officially open. And wish us all the best in making it a success.

 

 

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