Fighting back the pandemic and saving journalism. The moment is now.

2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic have had a brutal impact on journalism: media closures, layoffs, loss of income and job insecurity have been headline news in our communications. However, there have also been positive initiatives and trends, ‘green shoots’ that could turn into effective solutions to the crisis unleashed in the media. The IFJ and its affiliates all over the world are determined to fight for such a future for our profession.


Solidarity among media workers in times of crisis

The pandemic has triggered a wave of solidarity among trade unions, media workers and civil society organizations without precedents in recent history. If unity and solidarity are essential to expand and secure labor rights, the pandemic proved they also serve as a refuge in times of crisis.

The list of journalists’ unions and civil society organizations’ regional and local solidarity initiatives in 2020 is endless, including actions from unions with limited resources. In Kenya, for example, the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) launched an inspiring campaign creating a fund to be used to buy food and other essential products for journalists in need affected by the pandemic. A similar campaign happened in El Salvador,  where APES was very active and managed to get donations of food, essential goods and protective equipment for those colleagues who were in a vulnerable situation.

"For me, the initiative in Kenya was one of the most positive actions because it was a great show of solidarity. We need to continue reporting without fear or favour and fight against disinformation", said Louis Thomasi, IFJ regional director in Africa.

This year revealed that the work and the role of the union organizations are essential in contexts like the one we are living in. But it also made clear that the organizations will have to assume their own transformations in order to respond to the needs and demands that will arise from this year ”, commented Paula Cejas, the IFJ Latin America regional director.

Unions have been especially active in countries where the state was failing to provide quick and efficient responses to the pandemic. In some cases, like the Asociación Nacional de Periodistas (ANP) in Peru, its activity was so widespread and high-profile that it actually saw a rise in membership. In the Maldives, we also saw the revival of the Maldives Journalist Association while Namibian journalists launched the Namibia Media Professionals Union (NAMPU). 

The unions’ activity included key actions such as offering free offline and online training on Covid-19 coverage, providing free safety material or offering advice for freelancers. Also, while authoritarian governments used the pandemic to restrict media freedom, our affiliates fought back to guarantee media workers carrying an IFJ press card freedom of movement during lockdowns, as has happened in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. 2021 should add more countries to the list.

“Seeing unions hosting webinars and meetings online was inspiring. This not only meant saving costs, which is so critical, but importantly it also signalled another opening up of possibilities for union democracy and representation”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific regional director, Jane Worthington, who witnessed a quick digitalisation of IFJ regional affiliates’ activities during the pandemic. 

Last but not least, 2020 also witnessed a stronger presence of unions in the digital media. The pandemic didn’t stop the ongoing wave of unionizing in digital media, especially in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. 2021 should be the year to consolidate this trend and expand it across the globe. Digital media employers told us precarious work in digital media is inevitable, but it’s not.

Public stimulus packages for the media

Unions were at the forefront of the struggle to get governments to support jobs and protect the media amid the impact of the pandemic. The IFJ welcomed the public stimulus and economic support packages for the media and freelance workers that some governments announced during the year and reiterated the need for further measures until the pandemic is over.

Most of these support measures were concentrated in Europe, while media workers from other parts of the world have too often been left  without any kind of support or protection, pushing them in to ever more vulnerable economic situations or forcing them to leave the profession, especially in the local media. If we don’t react, information deserts will inevitably appear, putting press freedom and the right to be informed at serious risk.

In this regard, IFJ affiliates, from the United States to Indonesia, have called repeatedly on the authorities to provide public funds to sustain news operations. These efforts were fruitful in many countries. For example, the work and lobbying of the SNPM and the National Press Council in Morocco helped to introduce a public financial package to support media organizations, saving jobs and ensuring journalists’ income. 

It’s important that governments consider media workers as essential workers during the pandemic and take bold action to save jobs in the media industry. If not, democratic systems will be at stake. 

The fight against fake news

This year has also made even clearer the importance of accessing reliable and unbiased information in a time of crisis. Journalists worked hard during the pandemic to expose fake news that put people’s health at risk, like when Donald Trump suggested the virus might be treated by injecting disinfectant into the body.

But the spread of fake news goes beyond the outgoing US president, and IFJ affiliates had to tackle it all over the world. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), launched its Fact Checking Platform on the news coverage of Covid-19, just oen of numerous union initiatives. This was key to improving public trust in the media and helped undercut any official sanctions against the media for publishing misinformed or inaccurate information by showing that the media, under the right framework, can correct its own mistakes without resorting to legal sanctions.

In 2021, we have to continue building trust in the media by supporting free and independent journalism, promoting self regulatory structures to strengthen media accountability”, said the IFJ Middle East Policy and Programme Director, Monir Zaarour.

The challenges ahead of us

Taxing the techs and making Facebook and Google pay for the use of media content will be key to ensure the future of journalism in 2021. But that’s not all. Transforming the role of unions and consolidating the unionization wave in digital media, pushing for media support packages, shaping the impact of telework in journalism and ensuring media workers’ safety are also fields where, despite positive steps in recent years, there’s still a long way to go.

Next year unions will also have to continue to tackle gender inequalities, which according to an IFJ survey, have grown during the pandemic. Respondents urged employers and governments to better regulate and organise teleworking as a way to limit intensive stress and tackle ongoing inequalities. 

The challenges ahead of us are huge and there’s only one way to face all of them: with unity and solidarity. Unions need to work together towards just solutions that ensure thecost of this crisis doesn’t fall on the backs of workers, as happened in the previous economic crisis. The moment is now.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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