GLOBAL DANGERS TO JOURNALISTS

NUJ Belfast & District Branch Chair Bob Miller opens the seminar  Photo: © Michael Fisher

NUJ Belfast & District Branch Chair Bob Miller opens the seminar Photo: © Michael Fisher

NUJ Belfast and District Branch held a seminar at the Linenhall Library Belfast on global dangers to journalists. The President of the International Federation of Journalists Jim Boumelha was among the speakers. Local photographer and NUJ member of honour Kevin Cooper spoke about dangers for journalists in Northern Ireland. Another branch member photographer Sarah Hunter spoke about her experiences in Somalia and introduced a Somali journalist and asylum seeker. Ciaran Ó Maolain also addressed the gathering. Afterwards I introduced a round table discussion with the speakers about human rights issues of concern to journalists.

NUJ Photographer Kevin Cooper addresses seminar  Photo: © Michael Fisher

NUJ Photographer Kevin Cooper addresses seminar Photo: © Michael Fisher

Stressing the importance of the union’s Code of Conduct Kevin Cooper said his guidelines were to be true to yourself and be prepared to stand up on issues of concern. He said journalists had a right to do their work unhindered. Despite the peace process, some journalists in Northern Ireland were working under threat, he said.

Photographer Sarah Hunter, another member of the Belfast and District Branch, spoke about the dangers to journalists in Somalia, where she has done work for various NGOs.

Photographer Sarah Hunter addresses seminar Photo: © Michael Fisher

Photographer Sarah Hunter addresses seminar Photo: © Michael Fisher

Ciaran Ó Maolain speaking at the NUJ seminar  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Ciaran Ó Maolain speaking at the NUJ seminar Photo: © Michael Fisher

IFJ President Jim Boumelha Photo: © Michael Fisher

IFJ President Jim Boumelha Photo: © Michael Fisher

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MARTIN O’HAGAN

Martin O'Hagan: Photo Kevin Cooper

Martin O’Hagan: Photo Kevin Cooper

Passing through the centre of Lurgan in County Armagh last night (Tuesday) on my way back to Belfast from Clogher, I was thinking of Martin O’Hagan. The 51 year-old Sunday World reporter was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries as he made his way home from a pub in the town centre, along with his wife Marie. It happened on a Friday night, September 28th 2001. The “Red Hand Defenders” a cover name used by the UVF claimed responsibility. No-one has yet been prosecuted for the murder of Martin, the only journalist to be killed during the conflict in the North. In January this year the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions announced that there would be no prosecution in relation to the killing, a decision that was criticised by the NUJ.

IFJ Congress in session at Dublin Castle

IFJ Congress in session at Dublin Castle

Today I was in Dublin where the International Federation of Journalists is holding its 28th world congress at Dublin Castle on the theme “Leading the Global Fightback”. Kevin Cooper and myself ran an information stand at lunchtime for the delegates about journalist safety. It was the theme of a conference in Belfast organised by the Belfast and District Branch of the NUJ in September 2011, at which the anniversary of Martin O’Hagan’s death was commemorated. Copies of the report of that conference will be available at the stall at Printworks. It also coincided with another conference on the safety of media workers held in Belfast’s Linenhall Library this morning, organised by Gerry Carson, Secretary of the NUJ Belfast & District Branch.

NUJ Belfast & District Vice Chair Michael Fisher with NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet & Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley

NUJ Belfast & District Vice Chair Michael Fisher with NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet & Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley

Kevin Cooper, Belfast & District Branch with NUJ President Barry McCall

Kevin Cooper, Belfast & District Branch with NUJ President Barry McCall

This evening a simple commemoration took place.

Standing Up for Journalism:

Delegates assembled on the steps of the Printworks at 7pm following close of business for a series of symbolic events demonstrating our commitment to journalism while commemorating those who have died in the service of our profession since 27th World Congress 2010

19.10  Distribution of floral tributes

19.20 Wreath laying at Veronica Guerin monument, Dubh Linn Garden, Dublin Castle

19.30 Freedom Walk to Dublin City Hall

19.50 Arrival at Dublin City Hall

20.00 Welcome by Gerry Curran, Cathaoirleach, Irish Executive Council, NUJ

20.10- 21.30: Reception and social evening 

IFJ President Jim Boumelha

IFJ President Jim Boumelha

Time to Vote! NUJ President Barry McCall

Time to Vote! NUJ President Barry McCall

PRESS FREEDOM DAY

Wreath laid at Veronica Guerin statue

Wreath laid at Veronica Guerin statue

Representatives of journalists in Ireland have been marking world press freedom day. In Dublin the President of the National Union of Journalists Barry McCall demanded action to protect media plurality across Europe. He joined senior NUJ and Amnesty International Ireland figures in laying a wreath at the Veronica Guerin statue in Dublin Castle in memory of all the journalists who have been killed in the course of their work. He said: “It is our duty to ensure that each one of those journalists is remembered. Here in Ireland we know the pain felt by the murders of Martin O’Hagan and Veronica Guerin, both NUJ members committed to the highest principles of journalism. We salute those who have died in the cause of the truth. We also need to protect our ability to communicate the truth on a global basis and across all platforms in the future.”

Martin O'Hagan at Belfast May Day March:            Photo © Kevin Cooper

Martin O’Hagan at Belfast May Day March:                          Photo © Kevin Cooper

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) who will hold their triennial Congress at Dublin Castle next month and the NUJ have also written to the embassies of the four countries in the world with the highest numbers of imprisoned journalists to demand their release. Signed by IFJ President Jim Boumelha the letters have been sent to the embassies of China, Iran, Turkey and Eritrea, to express the IFJ’s concern about the lack of press freedom in these countries, where journalists are routinely detained in violation of  their fundamental freedoms and human rights. As a sign of unity and solidarity, the IFJ is also calling on its affiliates to send similar letters to the embassies of the same countries in their regions. General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet has written on behalf of the NUJ.

This year the IFJ is marking world press freedom day by focusing on the issue of journalist safety and journalists imprisoned around the world. This reflects the ongoing concern over the numbers of our colleagues who continue to languish in prisons in many countries as a result of their profession. In Iran, according to the Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ), at least 24 journalists are currently in prison on charges of allegedly violating Iranian laws. In Turkey, the Turkish Union of Journalists, estimates that at least 66 journalists are currently in prison, awaiting trial on charges of allegedly isolating the Turkish penal code or anti-terror laws. The European Federation of Journalists is running a campaign with the Turkish Union of Journalists to ‘Set Journalists Free in Turkey’. In Eritrea, according to reliable sources, at least 18 journalists have been detained without charges since the authorities imposed a ban on independent media in September 2001. In China, it was reported in 2012 that potentially over 30 journalists were imprisoned, awaiting trial on charges of allegedly violating the Chinese penal code or anti-terror laws.

At a meeting of Dublin branch in Liberty Hall the NUJ President Barry McCall called for public support for the European Citizens Initiative which calls on the European Commission to bring forward measures to protect media pluralism and press freedom. Mr McCall said: “It is standard practice for governments and competition authorities to intervene when a firm becomes dominant in any sector. But the media industry is even more sensitive to such dominance as with it comes potentially immense political power and influence. This is why different standards and thresholds must be applied to this bulwark of democracy and why the NUJ is supporting the European Citizens’ Initiative aimed at gathering a million signatures to a petition calling on the European Commission to bring forward to protect media pluralism and press freedom. We need 9,000 signatures from Ireland to play our part in this critically important initiative. The NUJ will be campaigning to get its own members to sign up to the petition and we are calling on all trade unions, political parties, and the Irish people generally to get behind it so that we can prevent abuses of media power in this country in future.”

Irish Executive Council Cathaoirleach Gerry Curran told the branch that media freedom involved taking a stand in defence of journalism at home and abroad. Highlighting the fact that the NUJ will host the IFJ World Congress in Dublin next month he said the international focus on Ireland would give the NUJ a special role in highlighting the abuse of journalists throughout the world. NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley joined Amnesty International Ireland in calling for the release of journalists like Ali Mahmoud Othman who are detained in Syria. Noeleen Hartigan, Programmes Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “Syria is now the world’s most dangerous place to be a journalist. Scores of journalists have been detained, tortured or killed over the last two years. Others, like Ali Mahmoud Othman are detained in secret locations. Together with the NUJ we are today calling for the release of all journalists detained solely for their work to tell the world what is happening in Syria today.”

Adrián Silva Moreno

Adrián Silva Moreno: Photo Proyecto Impunidad

In 2012, 84 journalists in 25 countries died while covering the news. On May 13, their names will be added to the Journalists’ Memorial at the Newseum in Washington DC. In Mexico, Adrián Silva Moreno, a freelance journalist and contributor to the newspaper Puntual, was shot to death while covering a raid of a warehouse near Tehuacan. Silva was leaving when his car was fired on by unknown gunmen.

In a ceremony at the Newseum on Wednesday it was revealed that the percentage of the world’s population that has access to a free press declined during 2012, according to an annual survey released by Freedom House, which has documented media independence since 1980. 197 countries were monitored. Of that total, 32 percent were “free;” 36 percent were “partly free;” and 32 percent were “not free.” In 2012, the press status in eight countries changed. Karin Karlekar, project director at Freedom House, said this marked the first time in history that all country changes were in a negative direction.  The worst of the worst countries for press freedom were Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Three countries — Greece, Mali and Israel — changed from “free” to “partly free” Five countries — Egypt, Paraguay, Ecuador, Guinea-Bissau and Thailand — changed from “partly free” to “not free”. Norway and Sweden remain the most free in the world. Both have constitutions that guarantee press freedom. Newspaper readership is high, and internet access is widely available and unrestricted. For more information on the survey, visit www.freedomhouse.org. I am grateful to fellow blogger Darach MacDonald for bringing it to our attention on facebook.

Also in Dublin, the Irish section of the Association of European Journalists marked world press freedom day with a talk over lunch by the Chairman of the Irish Press Council, Dáithí O’Ceallaigh.  Press%20Council

NUJ ACTION

BBC Belfast Strike

BBC Belfast Strike

This was a busy day for NUJ activity. First, union members at Broadcasting House in Belfast (and at BBC Radio Foyle in Derry) joined journalist colleagues around the UK in walking out at midday to hold a twelve hours strike.

BBC Radio Foyle picket

BBC Radio Foyle picket  © NUJ website

The first Radio Ulster programme affected was Talkback. The presenter and long-standing member Wendy Austin was among those joining the line outside the main entrance. Inside, members of management kept some output on the air including radio news bulletins. The NUJ action along with the broadcasting union BECTU is over job cuts, compulsory redundancies, harassment and bullying within the Corporation.

At BBC picket line

At BBC picket line

At the meeting of Belfast and District Branch of the NUJ, members expressed their solidarity with their colleagues on strike. Later some of the branch members including myself joined the chapel members on the picket line. It was an interesting branch meeting, during which we endorsed a statement by the union’s National Executive Council at its meeting last Friday that criticised the First Minister Peter Robinson:-

The National Executive Council of the NUJ has called on First Minister Peter Robinson to withdraw his remarks for the people of Northern Ireland to “stop reading the Irish News. The NEC considers the First Minister’s controversial remarks ill-considered and demands that he withdraws the boycott of the newspaper immediately. The Irish News and its journalists have the right to pursue legitimate questioning in the public interest and the NUJ will defend its members’ rights to do so.”

NUJ Belfast & District Branch meeting

NUJ Belfast & District Branch meeting

The Branch also heard from Ridwaan Haji, a Somali journalist and NUJ member based in London, about the serious situation facing journalists in the Horn of Africa. He told us that eighteen journalists had been killed there last year and so far this year three had died, almost all of them in the capital, Mogadishu. Last Sunday a female radio journalist 21 year-old Rahma Abdulkadir was shot dead near her house by three young men carrying pistols. The Guardian reports that her main focus was human rights in Somalia, particularly womens’ rights. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the killing.

reviews the list of murdered journalists

Ridwaan reviews the list of murdered journalists

Tonight the UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova denounced the murder and called for an investigation into the crime. Members of the media killed during conflict will be remembered during the IFJ Congress in Dublin later this year and it is hoped that the Branch will have a stand at the conference hall in Dublin Castle on June 6th. Preparations are also continuing for a one-day safety conference for journalists and media workers in Northern Ireland to be held before July.

NUJ MATTERS

NUJ Belfast Branch

NUJ Belfast Branch

The President of the National Union of Journalists Barry McCall from Dublin (third from right) was in Belfast for meetings proving that membership of the NUJ matters. Barry is the second Irish member in succession to hold the post, which is for an eighteen months term until the next delegate meeting in London in April 2014. From that date onwards, the President will serve for a two-year period, to tie in with the biennial delegate meetings. The decision to move to a meeting every two years was taken at the DM in Newcastle-on-Tyne last October, in an attempt to make financial savings.

Barry McCall & Claire Savage

Barry McCall & Claire Savage

Belfast and District Branch supported the cost-cutting measures proposed by the National Executive Council and has decided to write to the General Secretary Michelle Stansistreet to congratulate her on the way she and the officials dealt with the very difficult situation facing the union. The President reported that good progress had been made but that the pensions issue would be the subject of consultation with the union’s staff in the new financial year in April.

The day began with a meeting of the Northern Ireland sub-committee of the Irish Executive Council, which I chaired. One of the main matters to be discussed was journalist safety, following recent attacks on and threats to members of the media. It was proposed that a two-day exhibition be held at Dublin Castle in June, during the Congress of the International Federation of Journalists, during which members of Belfast and District and Derry & North West branches would be available to network with visitors.

It is also intended to hold a half day briefing session open to all media workers and employers in the North about the safety of reporters, camera operators and photographers covering public disorder. One of the issues that will be raised will be the use of social media during riot situations. The committee also noted the Irish Secretary’s expression of “grave disappointment” at the announcement last month by the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland that there will be no prosecution in the Martin O’Hagan murder case. Martin was shot dead by loyalist paramiltaries in Lurgan as he walked home in 2001.

The branch also received a letter of thanks from the BBC chapel, who had been on strike yesterday at Broadcasting House. A chapel representative said the support was appreciated. It was also pointed out that there was a good level of support for the strikers from members of the public.