Unions of journalists from the Middle East and the Arab world meeting in Jordan next week plan to send a powerful message to regimes in the region with calls for repeal of laws that target journalists, action on rights of women and more protection for independent media.
The unions, all members of the International Federation of Journalists, are meeting in Amman to review programmes designed to transform the information landscape in a region where governments are sensitive to critical journalism and where media are constrained by legal and economic pressure.
"Across the region journalists are increasingly frustrated," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "They see the value of media pluralism and independent journalism in building democracy, but their governments are reluctant to embrace political reform and to modernise."
The IFJ meeting, hosted by the Jordan Press Association and attended by unions from 15 countries, will discuss programmes aimed at strengthening independent and ethical journalism, challenging the scourge of low pay and poor working conditions, and supporting the fight for women's rights.
The IFJ has launched a programme for professionalism, the Ethical Journalism Initiative, and has a long-running campaign -Breaking The Chains - which highlights the national legal restraints used to intimidate independent journalists in many countries.
The meeting opens on Monday October 5th with a special session on a new campaign to press for women journalists' rights and positive action for gender equality in union structures, media workplaces and to counter media stereotypes of the role of women in society.. Other debates will highlight the need for better social and professional rights and for urgent action to improve working conditions.
But the aspirations of journalists and their unions will not be met, says the IFJ, unless there is a new approach from governments. In many countries journalists are jailed or suffer targeted violence when they criticise the political establishment.
"Politicians must break with the tradition of command and control of media," said White. "Our unions want democratic reform. They want to sweep away laws that penalise journalists. They know media freedom is a key to progress, because it eliminates ignorance and is an antidote to prejudice and sectarianism, but it cannot exist if journalists are not allowed to work freely."
The results of the meeting will provide a framework for fresh action across the region, says the IFJ and will also shape the contribution of Middle Eastern and Arab journalists to the IFJ World Congress of journalists' unions which will be held in Spain in May next year.
For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide