CJA Conference 2016 London

Rita Payne welcomes the new Secretary-General

Outgoing President Rita Payne.

Outgoing President Rita Payne.

“We are particularly pleased to welcome Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC who took up the post as Secretary-General just over a week ago. We are honoured that she has made this journalists conference one of her first ports of call, and hope this signals greater support for professional media organisations which are part of such an important pillar of democracy and good governance as espoused in the Commonwealth Charter.

There is no doubting the power of the media. The distinguished British journalist, Simon Jenkins, in a recent article, describes how this has been demonstrated by stories like the Panama Papers, FIFA corruption, Snowden and surveillance. He points out that these and other stories would never have come to light if the powerful had it all their own way. Referring to the exposures in the Panama Papers he writes: ” A cloud of stinking dust rises as another wall in the edifice of unaccountability crashes to the ground. No thanks are due to any government or police force, to any minister or regulator. The instigator is that musketeer of the digital age, the whistleblower. But even the whistleblower depends on the press”.

The Panama Papers highlight the continuing importance of good solid journalism and old-fashioned legwork to hold power to account. But journalists and other outspoken people are, more than ever, being threatened, harassed, assaulted and sometimes killed for doing their jobs.

A few examples, although I am not naming specific countries because such incidents occur in many countries. There are instances of journalists being arrested abducted and tortured for criticism of police or exposing government malpractice; senior editors have been dismissed or arrested for refusing to reveal their sources; in some countries repressive laws are being introduced to silence the media. The victimisation and even the criminalisation of journalists is sadly becoming all too common in countries inside and outside the Commonwealth.

I am pleased to say that the CJA has had several fruitful contacts with UNESCO, which is the leading UN agency for the important UN action plan on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. The UN plan is working cooperatively with media, NGOs and governments to create a genuinely safe and enabling environment for journalists, so they can work without fear or interference to inform the public. I hope that in future the CJA may decide to strengthen its links to this uniquely valuable source of support for journalists.

The Commonwealth Journalists Association was set up by a group of enterprising and influential journalists nearly forty years ago to help provide a reference point for vulnerable journalists in countries across the Commonwealth who felt threatened or marginalised. One particular person who played a crucial role in the formation of the CJA is Derek Ingram who at 90
still keeps us on our toes. Derek has made a tremendous effort to be with us today. I invite you to join me in applauding Derek whose vision and dedication has inspired us to keep the CJA banner flying.

The media landscape has been transformed from the days when Derek and others, a few of whom are in the room today, first established the CJA. Journalists now have to grapple with the new digital technologies in collecting, disseminating and funding the news. These and other issues will be scrutinised at this conference. Importantly we will also put ourselves under the microscope to examine ourselves, our future and how we are to get there.

In putting together this conference we have been helped enormously by our conference partner, The Open University, which has generously provided its facilities and staff. One person who deserves special mention is Professor Marie Gillespie who has helped us at every stage of the planning and will be running special sessions with CJA members to review our strategy and priorities over the next few years.

We owe thanks to Google and all our other sponsors, the Telegraph Media Group, Thomson Foundation, Rotary International, Icon College among others for their contributions. We are especially grateful to the Canadian High Commission for its support. The High Commission has provided travel funds for two overseas delegates and is hosting a reception at Canada House today for conference delegates. We would also like to thank the British High Commission in Wellington for arranging travel for our representative in Samoa. Assistance like this is invaluable for an association like ours with limited access to funds.”

About the author

Martin Lumb

Leave a Comment