Building journalists' unions: Regional conference ended in Addis Ababa
A two-day conference, aimed at building the capacity of journalists' unions and associations in Eastern Africa, ended this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, with a clarion call to all journalists in the region to actively engage in defending their labour rights.
The conference, organized by the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Addis Ababa Office, under the theme "Getting Organized", has brought together leaders of journalists' unions and associations which are affiliated to EAJA from countries in the Eastern Africa.
The representative of UNESCO's Office in Addis Ababa, Jean Pierre Ilboudo, delivered a keynote speech at the conference. He emphasized the need to build the capacities of the unions in order to enable them to deal with the challenges facing journalists in the region, such as poor working conditions, safety concerns and other factors affecting media freedom.
"Journalists in the region must promote unity and solidarity among themselves, both at the national and regional levels, by creating bigger coalitions to act as credible platforms for addressing their issues within the media industry," said Ilboudo. "The East Africa region faced conflicts that threatened press freedom and the safety of journalists. UNESCO has always been committed to supporting journalists in addressing those challenges, as part of its mandate to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press," he added.
FES representative, Arne Schildberg, emphasized the need for journalists' organizations to promote social causes and noticed that the conference came at an opportune time to help the journalists unions in the region to organize.
Gabriel Baglo, Director of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Africa Office, lauded EAJA and FES for their engagement and support for journalists' unions in the region.
IFJ's Wolfgang Mayer said his organization was keen to undertake "sustainable processes" to support journalists' unions to enable them to offer service. "Journalist trade unionism needs allies and patience to achieve the desired results, which include high social standards to impact on democracy," he added.
According to the EAJA Secretary General, Omar Faruk Osman, journalists unions and associations in the East Africa Region face tremendous challenges, which can only be tackled if journalists get organized both at the national and regional level.
Among the key issues discussed by delegates were identification and recognition of trade union rights and the rights of journalists, models of union organization and processes of negotiating collective bargaining agreements to improve working conditions, as well as gender equality within unions.
Leaders from the EAJA affiliate unions and associations, including the new nation of Southern Sudan, made presentations on the situations in their countries that revealed daunting challenges facing journalists, including poor working conditions, safety concerns and unfavourable legal and policy environments, which impacted negatively on press freedom.