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East African journalists, editors and press freedom activists come together during regional conference on "Challenges and Obstacles of Practicing Journalism in Eastern Africa"

(NUSOJ/ Media Institute/IFEX) - The following is a 12 September 2008 joint statement by NUSOJ and Media Institute:

Eastern Africa Journalists, Editors and Press Freedom Activists join forces to struggle at all levels in stemming and eliminating the wave of intolerance and violence against media professionals

The Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), in collaboration with the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), organised in Djibouti, Republic of Djibouti, on 12-16 August 2008 a regional conference on "Challenges and Obstacles of Practicing Journalism in Eastern Africa".

The 5-day conference, which was fully supported and strongly participated in by the East African Editors Forum (EAEF), took place within the framework of the values of freedom of expression, freedom of association, collective bargaining, trade unionism, media's role in democracy and freedom of information and press freedom. National journalists' unions, media associations and editors' organisations, as well as other stakeholders in the media industry, forged at this conference a common front to promote Freedom of Association, Collective Bargaining, Trade Unionism, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Freedom of Information and general working conditions of journalists in the region.

The participants of the conference highlighted the urgency of engaging the regional and continental leadership with the view to making governments more accountable for abuses they carry out on journalists and the media in general. They strongly condemned attacks on freedom of the press and media professionals in the Eastern Africa region, including assassination, targeted attacks, harassment, closure of news media organisations, intimidation, banning of media organisations, illegal arrest and detention and provocation to aggression against them due to their professional activities.

The participants were deeply concerned about physical violence, assassination, detention, intimidations and death threats against journalists and other media professionals in Eastern Africa, since such violations restrict freedom of expression and the other rights and freedoms set forth in regional and international human rights instruments.

Concerned about the social and professional crisis in the region, leaders of journalists and editors in the Eastern region of Africa expressed their frustration over appalling working conditions of journalists who are in precarious, unproductive and poorly paid employment that is neither recognised not protected by any national, regional or international law. They pointed the finger at the increasing surge of intolerance by some governments, authorities and other violent elements in Eastern Africa against free expression.

The conference, which was attended by 21 persons representing journalists' unions and associations and editors' organisations from Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia and Seychelles, was also supported by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Clearing House.

The conference was divided into two parts. The first was ceremonial, introductory and included a presentation by lead discussants followed by comments from participants. The second part was an open discussion and comments from the participants, followed by responses from resource persons and lead discussants. Interaction and a participatory approach were the main thrust of the workshop. This proved very successful, given the enthusiasm with which the participants discussed issues, raised queries and made suggestions.

The conference was also attended by representatives from IFJ, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), ARTICLE 19, Amnesty International, Media Institute of Kenya and the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO).

At the end of the regional gathering, the participants agreed to: join forces and stand together as dedicated media professionals in joint solidarity and to struggle at all levels in stemming and eliminating the wave of intolerance and violence against media professionals; take firm action against all acts that infringe on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists and other media professionals in the line of duty; and to organise extensive publicity campaigns on unpunished crimes against journalists and other acts of violence against the media to bring about news coverage of all violations of press freedom.

In a declaration produced at the conference, the delegates agreed to promote the right to freedom of association, and to collectively bargain for wages and appropriate working conditions for journalists and other media workers; to encourage social dialogue in the media sector, including all types of negotiation, consultation and exchange of information between working journalists, media employers and governments regarding matters of mutual interest; promote actions that secure the safety of journalists and other media workers including safety training for journalists, safety codes, healthcare and life insurance, and equal access to social protection for freelance employees and full-time staff; promote regional standards of social protection and service conditions for all journalists and media staff as well as common standards of editorial independence; and to take necessary measures to ensure equitable gender representation in all media houses, journalists' unions and at all decision making organs.

The Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), based in Djibouti, campaigns to preserve and promote freedom of expression and of the press, and to protect and promote the rights and interests of journalists and other media workers. It comprises the journalists' unions and associations of Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) hosts the EAJA Secretariat.

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