Eastern Africa: Journalists unite to demand action on media freedom and rights at work

Journalists’ union leaders from across Eastern Africa have vowed to step up the fight for fair pay, better working conditions and media freedoms at a summit held in Kenya.

The Standing United for Media Freedom and Better Working Conditions Eastern African Journalists Summit brought together representatives of national journalists’ unions and associations from eight countries from 28-29 June.

They were joined by senior representatives of Central Organisation of Trade Unions of Kenya (COTU-K), African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC-Africa), African Union Commission (AUC), International Labour Organisation - Bureau for Workers 'Activities (ILO-ACTRAV), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) and the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).

The call for action, endorsed by journalists’ union leaders from Kenya, Djibouti, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, was made as leaders hit out at the ongoing threats faced by media professionals in the region, including arbitrary arrests, death threats, intimidation, judicial harassment, killings and illegal detention and the impunity with which those crimes are carried out.

The summit also drew attention to the increasing precarity of work, with a majority of journalists denied even a basic contract and left at the mercy of unscrupulous employers and the wave of job losses and salary cuts resulting from measures imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as to the growing threat of violence, harassment and unequal treatment faced by women journalists.

In their final statement the journalists’ representatives called for action to:

o   Develop a climate of respect for the work of journalists and to recognise the legitimacy and vital role journalists and their unions play in the promotion and consolidation of peace, human rights, good governance, democracy and rule of law.

o   Ensure that national legislation and administrative regulations impacting on media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association are in conformity with the principles enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Labour Standards.

o   End the wanton impunity and prosecute the culprits behind the crimes committed against journalists.

o   Mount a campaign to end impunity of crimes committed against journalists which will culminate into a regional conference to review the status of safety of journalists in Eastern Africa. 

o   Commit to gender inclusion in the media industry in Eastern Africa, starting from journalists’ unions, to meaningfully promote gender equality and ensure equitable representation. 

o   Combat all forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence both inside and outside the media by developing and implementing progressive policies and mechanisms in line with ILO convention 190 on violence and harassment at the workplace.

o   Actively organise to protect journalists labour rights as stipulated by the ILO conventions 87 and 98, with a view to putting in place effective mechanisms for ensuring decent and safe working conditions for journalists and other media workers.

o   Develop stimulus packages for the media industry to cushion against the diverse impacts of COVID-19 which both enshrine media independence and ensure support goes to working journalists and unions, who must be involved in the implementation of this support.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “The call from Eastern African journalists’ leaders is clear and could not come at a more important time. Media freedom and the rights of working journalists are under threat from negligent governments and unscrupulous employers. We urge all journalists to join and get active in their unions and help turn the tide for media rights and fair working conditions”.

For more Information, please contact the IFJ - Africa Office

1st Floor, Maison de la Presse, 5 Rue X Corniche, Medina,

BP 64257, Dakar, Senegal

Tel: +221- 33 867 95 86/87; Fax: +221- 33 827 02