Korea "Must Be a Model for Press Freedom in Asia" IFJ Tells Kim Dae-Jung As Journalists' Congress Opens

The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest organisation of journalists, today called on Korean President Kim Dae-Jung to ensure that that controversial proposals for media reform should be "a model for democracy and press freedom in Asia.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the IFJ's 24th World Congress, Christopher Warren, IFJ President, said Korea could allay the fears of some international commentators by promoting pluralism and independent journalism.

"Korea faces enormous challenges in the years ahead as the movement towards reconciliation between North and South gathers strength," said Warren, "and this provides an historic opportunity to ensure that journalism remains independent, that all obstacles to media freedom are outlawed. Korea must be a model for press freedom that will encourage rapid reform in other Asian countries where citizen's rights to freedom of expression are not yet secure."

He was speaking after Kim Dae Jung had opened the Congress, the largest representative meeting of journalists ever held, with delegates from more than 80 countries. The IFJ President intervened in a controversy over media reform that has led to protest by some leading newspapers that investigation of their tax affairs by the authorities amount to attempts to muzzle the press.

"We do not accept these criticisms. We support a process of reform and widespread debate about the role of media in Korea," said Warren, "but the government will dispel criticism by making good on commitments to press freedom and democracy."

Warren issued a strong appeal for planning and renewal by journalists' leaders at the Congress. It was the biggest event of its kind ever held, he said, and the IFJ could celebrate strong regional organizations and networks. He paid tribute to the work of the past years, but said that a coherent strategy was needed to confront the challenge of new technology, the on-line revolution, the decline of public broadcasting and more militancy by media employers and increased freelancing. This would be core work of the Congress this week. In a wide-ranging speech he also highlighted a number of other issues.

Journalists Should Act Over HIV-Aids Crisis Says IFJ Leader

Christopher Warren said the IFJ was done much, on many issues, including the struggle for human rights and for better working conditions, but he added one more important item to the working programme of the Federation - more activities to combat the world-wide HIV-Aids crisis.

"As journalists we know the impact of the crisis on our society. Many of us have lost friends to aids-related illnesses - Journalists' unions and the IFJ can do something about this and we should."

More Democracy, but More Dangers for Journalists

Warren said that he did not accept that killings of journalists were an inevitable price To be paid for press freedom.

"There are things that we can do; things that governments can do; and things that employer must do to maintain journalism as a craft to live for and not one to die for," he said.

IFJ Supports Strike Action Over Media Reform in Korea

The IFJ added its weight to the controversy over the reform of media in Korea when Christopher Warren backed a four- hour strike by newspaper unionists at major dailies on June 13th. "This action is taken in support of calls for media reform and highlights the importance that journalists and media people are giving to the defence of independent journalism and it has our full support," he said.

Call for End to Divisions And For Global Action by Journalists

Reminding journalists that there are basic principles that united the, the IFJ President said that divisions at a national level were weakening the capacity of unions to meet the challenges of modern journalism.

"The IFJ has a key role to play in actively intervening with member unions to build their capacity by promoting unity. The crisis we face is one where we need to remember the things that unite us, and not to continue with divisions that only help people opposed to advancing the social and professional rights of journalists," he said.

"A globalising world and an internationalizing industry calls for an international response, but we have all found that it is easier to stay stuck in our national or local habits than it is to make the leap that our employers have to fighting and campaigning on a global scale," he said.