Report on the 2010 IFJ Congress – Cadiz, Spain – 25 -28 May
Every three years, the International Federation of Journalists holds its annual congress. Affiliated unions elected their delegates and the NUJ elected ours at the last year’s general meeting in Southport. Our delegation (NUJ UK and Ireland) comprised: Jim Boumelha (IFJ president, returned for a second term by the Congress), Ronan Brady from Ireland, Anita Halpin, Michelle Stanistreet (DGS), Mindy Ran and myself. Ronan served on the presidium (like our standing orders committee) and chaired some congress sessions, whilst Anita Halpin and I were appointed to work on two Congress commissions – Finance, Rules and Constitution (Anita) and Motions and Working Programme (myself). These commissions reported the outcome of their work to the congress.
The Congress, attended by journalists from over 100 countries, was a mixture of formalities/ceremonials, seminars, business (receiving reports, accounts, amendments to the IFJ constitution, motions (over 40) and emergency motions (some 16) and the working programme for 2010 – 2013. The Congress also saw the launch of two important publications. The first was the publication of the IFJ report ‘Journalism Unions in touch with the Future’ (our responses to the crisis in journalism) which was debated in seminar sessions on the first day and during the congress itself later in the week (during which Michelle spoke on the UK experiences).
The second was the launch of General Secretary Aidan White’s wide ranging book ‘To tell you the Truth The ethical journalism initiative’. In his forward to the publication Jim Boumelha described the book as providing support ‘for journalists who are keeping the ethical flame alive in the profession’. It is recommended reading and you can find it on the IFJ web site at: http://ethicaljournalisminitiative.org/en
On arrival at the congress hall we were greeted by a group of local activists demonstrating against alleged financial corruption/mismanagement by the local council. It was vocal and friendly demonstration, and they were keen on getting their message across to delegates with publicity material produced in a number of languages including English. It’s also worth recalling that there is also considerable anger in Spain against the harsh measures being taken by the minority ‘socialist government’ to ‘balance the books’ at the expense of working people and their dependants and during the week an austerity package was passed by the Spanish parliament by one vote!
Back in the conference hall, the first of the ceremonials was a special address to the meeting by Teresa Fernandez, the Spanish deputy prime minister, preceded by a welcoming address by the President of the Press Association of Cadiz, the regional minister of Andalusia and the Mayor of San Fernando (where the first day of the conference was held in the Real Teatro de Las Cortes). The holding of the first day of conference at this theatre was highly symbolic for it was here in 1810/11 that the Spanish constitution was drafted. The constitution included the establishment of the freedom of the press. In his opening address to Congress Jim Boumelha reminded the congress that the IFJ represented a powerful voice for journalists and had grown into a global organisation fit for journalism in the modern world.
The rest of the week, the organisers attempted to squeeze in a pre=congress one day conference on the Future of Journalism (see the IFJ’s report ‘Journalism Union in Touch with the Future’) three panels, the General Secretary’s report – a 70 page report on IFJ activities since the last congress in Moscow in 2007 – a finance report, motions, emergency motions, and elections as well as fraternal greetings.
The pre-congress conference on 25 May included regional conferences on the crisis in journalism which revealed the variation in the state of journalism faced by our affiliates in different regions.
There were a number of proposed amendments to the IFJ constitution including proposals tabled by the NUJ UK and Ireland. In the end it was agreed that all these should be referred to a constitutional commission to be set up the IFJ executive committee. The outcome will be subject to wide discussion amongst us, the affiliates. Many of the main motions dealt with our concerns about the safety of journalists and the lack of political will by some governments to pursue those responsible. 2009 saw a total of 139 deaths of journalists and media workers across the world, and the impunity in killing media workers and the political indifference to censorship by violence is an international scandal that rarely gets noticed. Motions from the NUJ included: Impunity (passed); Support for Colombian journalists (passed); The future of journalism and the financial crisis (passed); Staff contracts (passed); Future of IFJ regions (passed); and Gender (passed). An emergency motion from the NUJ Ireland on the government’s attempts to undermine the Irish Freedom of Information Act and calling for the IFJ to support the campaign to get restrictions removed was also passed. Full details of all motions and emergencies, together with the results of elections should be found on the IFJ web site at: www.ifj.org
Much of the morning of the last day was taken up by the closing ceremony by the crown prince of Spain, Prince Felipe of Asturias, where tribute was paid to journalists who had been killed and to colleagues who continued to face harassment and imprisonment because of their work. In reply Jim Boumelha paid tribute to journalists and media workers who had been killed and to colleagues who continued to face harassment and imprisonment just for doing their work and bringing us the news. The remainder of the day saw the results of elections for the executive and administration committees and the completion of the debates on motions (see last paragraph).
On a sad note Congress sent its condolences to the family and colleagues of Hans Verploeg who died on 25 May after a serious illness. Hans was General Secretary of the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ), an IFJ affiliate and served as Honorary Treasurer of the IFJ until 2001.
Two things stand out in my mind. At the congress you come face to face with journalists who put their lives on the line to bring us information and news. I will never forget the photographs of those who have died providing this great service to the public. The second was the strengthening of the IFJ regions such as Africa and Latin America, who since the last congress in 2007, have been building and organising their own conferences, electing regional leaderships and becoming a force for change within the IFJ. It is this growing confidence that will take forward the struggle for good quality journalism against those who see media only in the language of profit, not as a public good.