New IFJ/WAH agreement on defence of press freedom

Bodo Hombach and Aidan WhiteBrussels, 9th July 2007. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and German media group WAZ Media today launched a new framework agreement on the defence and promotion of press freedom. The agreement is the first of its kind made by the IFJ with an international media company, and aims to protect the freedom of the press, promote quality standards in journalism and secure fair working conditions for employees in the media.

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The core principles of the agreement are:

Principle 1 – Defence of press freedom
Without press freedom and independent journalism there can be no effective scrutiny of democracy and the exercise of power in public life.

Principle 2 – Quality journalism is the essence of press freedom
Press freedom strongly depends on quality information provided by informed and well-trained journalists who are committed to accurate, credible and ethical standards.

Principle 3 – Media independence and duty to inform
While journalists must not be subject to undue influence by political, economic and social forces, media have a duty to properly inform people of political process, polity in general and the impact of policy on their lives.

Principle 4 – Media are a cornerstone of democracy
Media pluralism, through the provision of diverse opinions, empowers people to take decisions and to understand the reality of the world around them.

Principle 5 – Global media have local impact
Global communications and the development of internet-based information services, which should be ethical in nature, bring people closer and have local impact. They provide media with fresh opportunities to bridge cultural, social and political divides.

Principle 6 – Transnational media and spreading of democratic culture
Transnational media companies should be subject to democratic scrutiny, and must have clear commitment to editorial independence, pluralism and journalistic freedoms in order to provide intercultural dialogues and strengthen unifying values in countries with different cultural and political traditions.

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EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding emphasised her support, stating that she chose to be present at the launch because, ‘it sends a strong signal that quality journalism is the basis of our freedom of expression and freedom to receive information.’

IFJ Secretary General Aidan White said that the agreement was the first of its kind, and called it a breakthrough which paves the way for similar initiatives with other transnational enterprises. ‘We need to make sure that it works,’ he added, saying that ‘social dialogue in favour of quality in journalism will secure the future for all media.’

In answer to a question from Michael Stabenow of API about a charter for media freedom in Europe, he emphasised that ‘it is our responsibility as journalists to set our own rules, and to follow them.’ Asking, ‘do we need a European charter for media freedom?’, he answered that, ‘if so, as professionals in the media we should develop one ourselves.’

Bodo Hombach, Managing Director of WAZ Media group, admitted that the agreement was initially not a comfortable one for the group, and its development had been the cause of fierce discussions between Aidan White and himself. However, he said, ‘we need a mechanism in the press which can reveal what the mighty do not want revealed,’ and that, ‘if we are not credible ourselves, then we endanger our whole system from within.’

With the agreement now signed by IFJ Secretary General Aidan White and WAZ Managing Director Bodo Hombach, the two organisations plan to set up working groups in all of the countries where WAZ operates to ensure that the agreement and some basic operating principles are followed at every WAZ publication.

The new agreement is supported by Deutscher Journalistenverband and the ver.di trade union, as well as by IFJ/EFJ member organisations in Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia and Montenegro, all countries where the WAZ Group is a major publisher of print periodicals.

More information from the IFJ and WAZ web sites:

——Background information——
See the WAZ/OSCE agreement ‘Principles for guaranteeing editorial independence‘ signed by WAZ Media Managing Director Bodo Hombach with OSCE representative Freimut Duve in July 2003.

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