27 May 2009

Historic day in Baghdad as IFJ launches journalism support programme

(IFJ/IFEX) - 25 May 2009 - Leaders of journalists unions from around the world travelled to Baghdad at the weekend for a conference on support for media in Iraq - the first international meeting of any kind in the city since the war began six years ago.

The Iraqi Journalism Summit 2009 was organised by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate and was warmly welcomed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who at the opening pledged government support for media development plans and new actions to protect journalists.

Union leaders from two of the world's other hotspots - Somalia and Colombia - joined Presidents and General Secretaries of IFJ unions in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Venezuela, Peru, Chile as well as representatives from unions and media advocacy groups from 35 other countries in a show of global solidarity with the Iraqi media community.

The meeting saw the signing of formal agreements between the IFJ and the Iraq Commission on Integrity and the Iraq Electoral Commission in which both groups pledged to defend press rights and to organise seminars and training for journalists on the role of media in exposing corruption in public life and improving the quality of reporting around election time. This is particularly important in a community where media are heavily influenced by competing political and sectarian interests.

The meeting also launched a three-year national campaign based upon the IFJ global Ethical Journalism Initiative, involving a programme of seminars, debate and professional actions to raise media standards, build a unified journalists' movement and improve safety of journalists.

"This historic meeting opens the door to a new era for Iraqi journalism," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "The Iraq story is moving off the front page of war, crisis and social dislocation. Now the challenge is to focus on how a culture of honest, ethical journalism can help build peace and strengthen democracy for all."

Joining the meeting were leaders of media support networks, including the International News Safety Institute and the Global Forum for Media Development, journalism educators, and several groups carrying out media development work. Journalists and editors from all corners of Iraq came to Baghdad for the meeting where discussion focused on the actions needed to create more respect for quality journalism within media. Although Iraq has an abundance of newspapers, television and radio outlets and online services, few of the titles are economically viable, and much of the journalism suffers from political interference and sectarian bias.

Top priority will be given to ending the security threats which continue to inhibit media development. More than 200 journalists and media staff have been killed in the last six years and a special scholarship programme for young journalists in memory of the leader of the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate Shihab Tamimi who was assassinated last year was also launched.

Meetings were held with government ministers and on the eve of the conference a special session was held with 100 Iraqi editors and media executives when the IFJ called for a new unified approach from media. White urged journalists, editors and owners to work together and speak with one voice to defend editorial independence and to put media issues at the heart of the post-war development agenda.

"We have to build new alliances inside journalism, with civil society and with the state," he said. "And we have to show courage in confronting enemies of decency in journalism and professionalism in media whether they are inside or outside media. We need more safety, decent working conditions and more respect for the job that journalists do. Without that, Iraqi media will not be free and democracy will not take root in society."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre, Residence Palace
Bloc C, second floor, Rue de la Loi, 155
1040 Brussels
Phone: +32 2 2352207
Fax: +32 2 2352219
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