Speak up 3 Conference: Freedom of expression in the Western Balkans and Turkey

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This speech is given by the EFJ President, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, at the Speak up 3 Conference: Freedom of expression in the Western Balkans and Turkey, held in Brussels on 4 November 2015.

 


Media, journalists and their organisations in Western Balkans and Turkey are operating in an environment where a lack of respect for the fundamental rights of journalists poses threat to the safety of journalists and media freedom.

An important message that has been echoed from conference to conference like this – it is impossible to have quality, independent journalism without decent working conditions. Labour rights are a prerequisite for the development of credible media in democratic societies.

In this context, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) insists on improving the capacity of journalists’ organisations in order to protect the rights of journalists. Journalists’ organisations represented by the EFJ are striving to develop the following capacities:

  • Recruiting members to strengthen the unions and develop services;
  • Advocate the right to organise and collective bargaining for all journalists (including employees, freelances, self-employed and other new forms of employment status);
  • Train journalists in collective bargaining and individual negotiation;
  • Foster social dialogue between journalists and employers’ organisations as an effective way to secure decent working conditions;
  • Advocate for the reform of national labour legislation in order to bring them in line with international labour standards;
  • Engage in dialogue with national governments to repeal legislation that criminalise journalists and journalism;
  • Urge governments to develop and implement mechanisms to fight impunity for crimes against journalists and to ensure the safety of journalists.

With these in mind, the challenges for journalists and their organisations in the Western Balkans and Turkey remain immense.

  • The rights of citizens in Turkey are ignored. Free press is far from being the reality. To date, 21 journalists are still in jail waiting for their trails because of their work as journalists. This is unacceptable.

Despite this, the EFJ has achieved some positive results and helped journalists gained their freedom through a joint campaign e “Set Journalism Free” launched with the IFJ.  Five years ago before the campaign was launched, more than a hundred journalists in Turkey were in prisons. Today, the number has decreases but it is unacceptable that journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs. The campaign for their freedom must be continued until all journalists are released and that the government starts to respect the rights of journalists by recognising media freedom as one of the fundamental pillars for democracy. To achieve this, it will require financial resources, determination and commitment not only from civil society but also our European leaders.

Turkey not only ignores media freedom, labour rights and trade unions are also made enemies of the state. The government needs to respect trade unions and their activities. I must emphasise that it is astonishing for the EFJ to witness the blatant violation of labour rights by not allowing freelancers to join a union in Turkey.

  • In Western Balkan countries like Macedonia, we have witnessed the growing hostility towards journalists and media. Jailing of journalists because of their jobs is simply unacceptable especially when the government wire-tapped journalists and media. It is important to change the situation. It is not only for the sake of journalists, but also for the citizens and democracy.
  • Journalists from the region work in appalling conditions without decent contracts, rights at work and receive low salaries. Therefore, it is important for journalists to have the right to organize. Improvement of labour rights must be on the top priority and should be promoted by international organisations and intergovernmental institutions.

In particular I want to refer to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Art. 12 on the rights to association and Art. 28 on right to collective bargaining ant the right to strike.

  • Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia -Herzegovina also lack recognition of journalism as a public good. Most journalists receive very low salaries that are under the average of salaries in the country. The low income of journalists has a huge impact on the possibilities of making investigative journalism. It is simply not possible if journalists cannot earn a decent living.

 

Despite this, we must find solution to help journalists working in this region. Now, I will concentrate on some proposals:

  • First, we need a long-term strategy. We must adopt a sustainable approach in our action instead of taking an ad hoc approach. The EU must develop long-term programmes that allow sustainable and meaning results to take place within a longer period. Policy makers shall bear in mind that, it takes time for change to take place.
  • Capacity building of journalists’ organisations and other media organisations is key to achieve sustainability. With the provision of resources, the EFJ shall have the duty to develop mechanisms to reach out to journalists, those who don’t care about trade unions, and those who are too scared to join. We must all be better in listening, understanding the challenges journalists are facing in order to respond to their needs.
  • We cannot stay just in the circle of interests discussing how difficult it is to make business in the media. We have to enter the circle of concerns:
  • We must understand that in some small European countries, public support of media where there is an arms-length principle can be an effective way to ensure both good business cases and a pluralistic media.
  • We also need instruments in order to develop new business models. We must involve big media players because that’s where the money is. Content plays an extremely important role and some are making money out of the content. They must contribute financially to creating new content. This is not just a case for applicant countries but for all of Europe.
  • We need instruments to bring media owners and stakeholders to the negotiation table when doing collective bargaining. Many issues like authors’ rights and better standards in working conditions must be achieved through collective bargaining. This will be helpful for newsrooms to be able to find tools for the innovation. A similar challenge is to ensure better working conditions for journalists.
  • Editorial freedom is essential. This should be recognised by government and society. Politicians have a responsibility to ensure this freedom. Meanwhile, journalists and editors must work together and take the responsibility to ensure high standards in journalism through a self-regulatory approach.

Finally, a country-by-country approach is not always the most effective way. At times, a regional approach can also have a huge impact and in particular when challenges are found cross-border. And let me emphasise again – we need a long-term vision and action, as well as determination to achieve media freedom in the region.

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