Representatives of 18 unions from the Arab World and the Middle East have agreed a number of recommendations to help improve journalism in the region, including plans to campaign to unionise journalists working for major Arab satellite TV stations and support for a regional body to protect media freedom. The recommendations were agreed at the IFJ Regional Meeting in the Arab World & Middle East’ which was held in Casablanca, Morocco, from 28-30 October. The meeting took place during a mass general strike in Morocco, the first in the country for 15 years, and the affiliates gathered at the meeting offered their support for all those involved in the action. The theme of the meeting was 'Beyond the Arab Spring – A New Road Map for Journalists' and the representatives delivered reports on the state of journalism in their countries and the challenges being faced by journalists, media and their unions, with particular focus on the civil wars raging in Libya and Syria and the worsening situation in Northern Iraq and Kurdistan. Workshop on gender equality The day before the meeting, on 27 October, a workshop on gender equality was held. The workshop was organised by the MedMedia project, a consortium of organisations that includes the IFJ as a member, and 60% of the participants were women. Participants highlighted continuing discrimination against women and how this reflects on their performance and their career development. The debate also focused on wage inequality and the prevalence of sexual and psychological harassment. They also gave credit to a number of successful actions, both within unions and media outlets, where various forms of discrimination against women journalists were countered. Recommendations included plans to develop a handbook on successful practices in the field of gender equality and the development of a training of trainers course. Affiliates also agreed to adopt policies or action plans on gender equality, to establish gender equality boards and to back a supportive working environment for women journalists in media outlets. Recommendations from MEAW meeting The gathered representatives made a number of recommendations at the meeting: They noted the tragic death of more than 150 journalists in the region over the last three years and the disappearance, kidnapping and arrest of many other journalists, demanding their immediate release. They agreed to strengthen union work on the issue of journalist safety and fighting impunity, especially in countries witnessing wars and conflicts. Regarding trade union campaigning, the representatives agreed to strengthen their trade union work in the key areas of collective bargaining and recruitment of freelancers. They also adopted a special resolution on the need to campaign to unionise journalists who work for major pan-Arab satellite TV stations in the region, in particular Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, MBC and Sky News Arabia. The gathered representatives urged the IFJ to enter a dialogue with the management of these media companies to try and secure the professional and social rights of journalists, advising that the Federation should take whatever action is deemed necessary to back up this effort. Special Rapporteur The representatives held a thorough discussion on a special international mechanism for the Arab world on the freedom of the media. The discussion was led by Pansy Tlakula, special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information at the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR). It centred on the necessity for media law reforms including the right to access to information and protection of sources, the abolition of prison sentences and setting of limits for fines for press offences, the abolition of all legal provisions that criminalise press offenses and hinder journalistic work. Participants were in favour of establishing an office of ‘Special Rapporteur for Media Freedom’ in the Arab world. The representatives recommended that a consultation process should be launched with national, independent human rights commissions in the region and involving relevant international bodies. They advised that the consultation process should focus on the structure, mandate and the financing that will guarantee its independence. Further decisions Representatives made decisions to: Continue supporting the demands of the Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ) for their offices to be reopened and for journalists jailed in Iran because of their work to be freed. Welcome the announcement by Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, in response to a request made publicly by IFJ ExCom member, Moaiad Al Lamy, at the Federation of Arab Journalists’ 50 year jubilee in Cairo, that he will exercise his constitutional power to pardon the Al Jazeera English journalists in jail once their appeal is over. View the full list of recommendations from the meeting HERE.
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