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African unions vow to protect media workers

The Safety and Protection of African Journalists Conference

The Safety and Protection of African Journalists Conference  -  © Private

1 September 2010

Trade unions and representatives from the African Union meeting in Ethiopia have agree to work together to improve the safety and protection of journalists in Africa.

Union leaders and journalists from across Africa at the The Safety and Protection of African Journalists Conference in Addis Ababa have taken the historic step of adopting a declaration calling on governments, trade unions and the international community to join forces to improve the safety and protection of African journalists.

The conference was the first of its kind and brought together the leaders of African journalists' unions; the President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ); the British ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union; senior officials of the African Union Commission (AUC) and Ethiopian government; regional representative of the Office of High Commission of Human Rights; trade unions and civil society representatives.

The conference was hosted by the African Union Commission and organised by the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), with support from the NUJ and the UK TUC.

The conference focused on key themes affecting the safety of journalists in Africa and identified urgent and practical steps that individuals and organizations at a local, regional, national and international level can implement to improve the safety and protection of journalists.

The overwhelming consensus was the desire to make the future less lethal for journalists, starting this year in 2010, as it is the African Union's year of peace and security.

Speakers and participants at the Conference agreed that journalism is the oxygen of informed citizenship, democracy and development and that Africa needs safe journalists to tell the story of Africa to Africans and to the rest of the world.

During the last ten years, more than 200 journalists have been killed in Africa. Journalists continue to be at risk today.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ Deputy General Secretary, took part in a panel of speakers alongside Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian war correspondent; Lucy Ekadu, President of the Uganda Journalists Union; and Amie Joof, Executive Director of the Inter Africa Network for Women, Media, Gender Equity and Development.

The panelists highlighted the dangers and challenges for female journalists reporting wars including discrimination, intimidation, threats, fear and sexual harassment. Thy argued that war has traditionally been a male domain and war reporting remains one of the last bastions of men. Nevertheless, they pointed out that there are many brave female journalists and women should have the right, free from discrimination, to do their work.

To address the risk to journalists, the Declaration adopted in Addis Ababa called on governments to fulfill their obligations to respect, protect and promote the rights of journalists in accordance with national, regional and international laws.

Omar Faruk Osman, FAJ President, said:

"History has indeed been made during the past two days and in the short life of the Federation of African Journalists. FAJ represents 70,000 members and we have put on record our commitment to take the issue of the safety of journalists in Africa to every level of decision makers to ensure that journalists in Africa can work safely and without fear of violence.
"Almost all severe dangers and other risks against journalists and associated media personnel are unique in terms of the motive behind them, the nature of their profession and the work they do and above all their vital role of being the public's eyes."

The IFJ is supporting the initiative of promoting the safety and the protection of African journalists.  Jim Boumelha, IFJ President, commended FAJ and AUC for their cooperation in raising the awareness about the safety and protection of African journalists.

Jim Boumelha said:

"Our African colleagues are yearning for safety and security to perform their job without trepidation of endangering their lives. What we have achieved today goes beyond Africa. The UK Trade Union Congress, with 7 million members, supports your efforts.
"African leaders should make the safety of journalists a priority because of their legitimate and significant professional duties. Killing a journalist is crime against humanity and we demand an immediate end to the culture of impunity."

Closing the conference, Dr Jean Ping, the Chairperson of the AUC, reaffirmed their commitment to promoting press freedom and the safety and protection of African journalists. He announced plans to establish a criminal court on the continent that will have a mandate to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against journalists.

Dr Jean Ping said:

"The Commission has in the past used its good offices to secure the release of journalists. In the future, the Commission will increase its support for journalists and the fight against the culture of impunity for violence against media."

Tags: , africa, faj, conference, safety, women, violence, press freedom, journalists killed, tuc, ethiopia, ifj, african union, auc, human rights