#DM18: International solidarity
22 April 2018
The NUJ has condemned the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the deaths of 82 journalists and media staff in 2017. Tony Sheldon from the continental European council proposed Motion 153 and said that so far this year the death toll has been 17. Our colleagues would not be forgotten, he told delegates.
The motion was agreed and instructed the union to continue to work with the IFJ and others to campaign against the harassment and murder of journalists, and to co-ordinate a campaign at branch level to mark the international day to end impunity for crimes against journalists on 2 November.
Motion 155 was proposed by first-time delegate Katrin McGauran, left, from the Netherlands branch. She outlined the plans of the Dutch government to follow other European countries and introduce a law allowing security services to conduct mass electronic surveillance. This would expose the personal data of the population without any exceptions, and would also jeopardise the protection of journalistic sources.
Delegates agreed the motion which instructed the union to support bodies such as the IFJ, Amnesty International and our Dutch sister union, the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ), in opposing these measures.
India was becoming a killing field for journalists, Conrad Bower, below, from the Manchester and Salford branch told the meeting. Motion 156 described the plight of journalists in India and Conrad described an NUJ member who had fled to the UK because he had been abducted, jailed and tortured in India.
The motion was agreed and instructed the NEC to work with the IFJ and other relevant bodies to raise awareness about the dangers faced by journalists in India and to explore the possibility of an early day motion (EDM) raising the issue in parliament.
More than 16 years after the murder of the investigative journalist and Belfast branch officer, Martin O’Hagan, there had been no convictions for the crime, despite the identities of those who ordered and carried out the assassination being widely known.
Gerry Carson, below, proposed Motion 157 on behalf of the Irish executive council and he explained to delegates that he had worked with Martin, and knew his life was constantly under threat. He said the lack of justice for Martin casts a dark shadow on the police and public prosecution service – only a few days ago another member of the Belfast branch had received death threats.
Kathryn Johnston from the Belfast branch seconded the motion. She said Martin was her friend and comrade, he had recruited her to the NUJ and gave her her first byline story. Kathryn added she was proud of the union for keeping up the struggle in Martin's name.
The motion was agreed, delegates acknowledged the failure of the investigation by the UK police, especially the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and instructed the NEC to enlist the support of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Council of Europe and United Nations to carry out an effective and independent international investigation into Martin O’Hagan's murder.
Composite L (covering motion 158 and LNM 15) focused on Catalonia and condemned the Spanish state's use of violence and repressive measures against media workers during the 2017 referendum.
The motion noted the criticism levelled at publicly funded broadcasters, TVE and TV3, who were both accused of providing biased and unfair coverage. Journalists at TVE publicly rebuked their own bosses for pushing an editorial agenda on them, and they demonstrated with placards reading #verguenza (shame) outside their own headquarters.
Sylvia Courtnage from the book branch proposed the motion and said the issues were democratic rights and press freedom. Anton McCabe from the Derry and north west Ireland branch seconded the motion and sent congratulations to colleagues in the media in Catalonia. He said that without them we would not have known about the attacks on civilians. In the spirit of the NUJ ethics code, the journalists resisted attempts at censorship and distortion by management and they protested against it.
The motion was agreed and instructed the NEC to campaign with the TUC and EFJ for the protection of journalists in Catalonia and Spain, regardless of their views on independence.
Media issues relating to Palestine and Israel attracted great interest. Composite M (covering motions 159, 160 and amendments) and motion 161 all raised the topic.
Motions pointed out the Israeli government or pro-Israel lobby groups often provided fully-paid visits to the country and the Giro d'Italia bicycle race, which attracts world-wide media coverage, is due to start in May.
Conference noted that accepting funding for trips from governments or private organisations could expose journalists to a conflict of interest and undue pressure. The motion reminded media workers that it was basic journalistic ethics to make it clear upon publication when such funding had been used, especially when the money came from organisations involved in grave human rights abuses against fellow journalists.
Palestinian journalists were denied freedom of movement in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian journalists would also be denied access to report on the Giro D'Italia, delegates were told.
The NUJ's sister union, the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, published a report in 2017 highlighting the systematic harassment, beatings and arbitrary arrests of journalists. There were 909 reported attacks on journalists in 2017 in addition to the closure of 17 media outlets. There are 29 Palestinian journalists in jail, with five awaiting sentences and six held in administrative detention.
On 6 April 2018 the Israeli security forces killed journalist Yasser Murjata and wounded 13 other colleagues. In response, the Dublin broadcasting branch held a protest outside the Israeli Embassy in Ireland.
Last October, dawn raids shut down 10 media headquarters and the offices of Pal Media, Trans Media and Ramsat which employ 94 journalists and media workers. Dozens of soldiers stormed the offices, confiscated their contents including cameras, editing equipment, and lighting equipment as well as audio devices worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In October 2015, three Palestinian radio stations, Manbar al-Huriya, Radio Hebron and Dream Radio, were shut down, leaving scores of journalists jobless.
The use of contemporary military orders to close media organisations were linked to the Defence (Emergency) Regulations enacted during the British mandate government in Palestine in 1945.
Delegates supported the campaign for the Palestinian press to be exempt from military orders connected with their journalism and supported the right of Palestinian journalists to report without military interference.
Delegates also noted the IFJ and NUJ were already campaigning on these issues and the work has so far included seeking legal remedies and engaging with the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories.
Delegates agreed to promote the sharing of information compiled by the Italian and Palestinian journalists' unions and to make it available to journalists planning to attend the Giro d'Italia. The union will support journalists who refuse to cover the assignment on ethical grounds.
Delegates said they would organise solidarity action when Palestinian journalists and their union requested it, and conference applauded the efforts of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in campaigning on behalf of its members against attempts by the Israeli authorities to muzzle Palestinian voices, destroy media equipment and by doing so depriving scores of journalists of their livelihood.
Iraq also came in for its share of criticism. Motion 164 was proposed by the London independent broadcasting and new media branch representative, Ahmed Elsheikh, right, and noted that Iraq was a deadly country for journalists in 2017.
During and in the aftermath of the Kurdistan region of Iraq’s referendum on independence, media workers faced threats from armed groups, state security and government. Peshmerga forces linked to the Kurdish regional government in Erbil have intimidated and attacked media outlets that reported critically on the referendum and the broadcaster NRT TV was blocked. Kurdish journalists operating in Kirkuk have also been threatened and killed by Iraqi government-backed militias.
Ahmed said journalists in Iraq were being deprived of their freedom and safety, and the NUJ should condemn the attacks on journalists, regardless of the source of the violence.
The motion was agreed and instructed the union to highlight the range of threats facing Iraqi journalists. Unions should pressure the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government to ensure that journalists could do their work without threats of violence.
Turkey was the biggest jailer of journalists in the world and its government was a regime that equated striking workers with terrorists, Donnacha DeLong told delegates. His Motion 165 proposed on behalf of the NEC noted that the NUJ, EFJ, and IFJ had been working for years to force the international community to act in support of journalists in Turkey.
According to the IFJ and EFJ member unions, TGS, Disk Basin- Is, TGC and CGD, the Turkish government has been jailing journalists relentlessly, shutting TV and radio stations and censoring the internet. More than 120 journalists are in jail or on trial, over 200 media outlets have been closed down and nearly 3,000 employees in the media sector have been left without jobs. Withdrawal of press cards, cancellation of passports and the seizure of assets have become routine.
Foreign journalists working in Turkey, such as the German correspondent of Die Welt, Deniz Yücel, had been arrested and charged with terrorist propaganda and association with terrorists. The Wall Street Journal reporter, Ayla Albayrak, had been sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on a terrorist propaganda charge.
The NUJ condemned the prolonged arbitrary detention and the isolation of detainees, including the reduction in visits and a ban on correspondence. The union also deplored the lack of legal remedies after Turkey’s constitutional court became paralysed since the state of emergency was declared.
Delegates applauded the actions of media workers, journalists and press freedom campaigners all over the world who had joined protests calling for the release of the jailed journalists in Turkey. The conference also welcomed the joint campaign by the EFJ and IFJ and their numerous international initiatives in support of their unions and members in Turkey, assisting with solidarity missions, financial support and sending observers to trials.
The motion was passed by delegates and instructed the NEC to continue to campaign, including:
- helping to strengthen the monitoring work on violations of press freedom in Turkey;
- encouraging NUJ members, the wider labour movement and civil rights groups to keep up the international pressure on the Turkish authorities;
- pressing the TUC and ETUC to organise campaigning activity;
- working with the NUJ parliamentary group;
- organising a global day of action on Turkey.
Motion 167 highlighted the harassment the Iranian authorities have been dealing out to journalists working for the BBC Persian Service in London and targeting their families in Iran. These journalists faced allegations of conspiracy against Iran’s national security, and more than 150 named individuals had been subjected to punitive sanctions, including a ban on buying or selling property inside Iran.
Pierre Vicary proposed the motion on behalf of the NEC and said the Iranian government had never liked the BBC Persian service because it brought quality and independent news to the people of Iran.
The motion was seconded by Shayan Sardarizadeh, left, an Iranian citizen who said he was proud to work for the BBC.
The motion also highlighted the plight of journalists in Iran and noted that president Hassan Rouhani had failed to fulfil his election promise to lift the ban on the NUJ's sister union, the Association of Iranian Journalists, which has been in force since 2009.
Delegates supported the call made by 700 Iranian journalists in a letter to the president urging him to intervene to reinstate the association and to ensure that the Association of Tehran Journalists which was founded in December 2016 was allowed to register.
The motion was agreed and instructed the NEC to continue to support the BBC Persian service campaign and support the campaign by the IFJ to re-establish the union office in Tehran.
* All photographs © Paul Herrmann