IFAJ seminar about freedom of the press by Hans Siemes
There is always pressure on agricultural journalists. Even in countries which have freedom of the press, Oliver Vujovic, general secretary of SEEMO (South and East Europe Media Organization) said at a seminar of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) on January 18th in Berlin.
He reported that his organization, active in 20 countries, had last year about 800 cases in which journalists were attacked or put under severe pressure. Among them are several journalists reporting about abuses in the agricultural sector. He signalized that beneath politicians and business more and more religious groups are putting pressure on journalists. Oliver Vujovic, a former journalist from Serbia, underlined that the IFAJ should continue embracing the freedom of the press, and that the IFAJ together with other organization should give help to agricultural journalists who are under pressure. The executives of the IFAJ, participating in the seminar, fully agreed.
The IFAJ organized this seminar because of their new strategy that says that IFAJ must become more global in nature. As a result national associations/guilds from countries without freedom of the press can become ‘guest’. And the IFAJ will start a new online discussion network, bringing together all agricultural journalists, whether they have freedom of the press in their country. So it seems that the IFAJ is loosening the reins at the freedom of the press in agricultural journalism, but the seminar made clear that this is not the case. Freedom of the press will stay the basic fundament for the IFAJ and the organization will support agricultural journalists in these matters. The IFAJ will not invent the wheel again, but work together with organizations which are specialized in supporting journalists, like SEEMO, a journalistic organization related to the International Press Institute in Vienna.
General secretary Oliver Vujovic explained how his organization supports journalists that are under pressure. He advised to publish the cases immediately in the press. Don’t hide it; otherwise the threats will go on and on. Especially politicians don’t like it when these cases are published. It encourages them to take actions, Oliver Vujovic said. The same goes for the police. Further on SEEMO tries to get in contact with the ‘attackers’ to convince them that they did wrong.
Journalists always should be aware that what they write or broadcast can be a problem. He gave several advises to agricultural journalists to protect themselves. “If you have information which is delicate and unique, share it with colleagues or with trustful organizations like SEEMO and the IFAJ. If possible attackers know that, they know it makes less sense to put pressure on one journalist to avoid that he or she is publishing sensible information. They know they can’t kill 100 journalists! “. And if – for whatever reason – it’s not possible to publish your story in your own magazine or country, you always have the possibility to publish it – via a friend – in another magazine, on the internet or in another country, he said.
Whatever happens, publishing was the motto of Oliver Vujovic, because journalists’ task is to inform the public.”Otherwise nobody else will do that”, he said.”Normally the politicians and the police should do that work, but if they don´t it’s the duty of the journalists to do the job of the state.”
Iurii Mykhailov, IFAJ executive and agricultural journalist of Ukraine, gave an example about the importance of publishing by the internet. Though Ukraine has official freedom of the press many journalists had to work in the past years with internal censorship by the owners of the media which had a good relationship with the government. Their only opportunity was to quit their job or to stay. Internet turned out to become the third solution, because digital objective information was spread. Nobody of the government or the owners of the media could do something about is. Especially the young people took advantage of this and tried to get the real objective information by the internet. Although the government and the media owners thought that they had the information under control, it turned out they the government lost the elections because the people believed the information on the internet. Since the elections the internal censorship is stopped. Oliver Vujovic too was enthusiastic about the internet, but warned for the truth on this digital platform. “Always check. To test we made three articles for Wikipedia of non existing persons.”
Absolutely an issue
After discussions, Moderator Owen Roberts concluded, saying that freedom of the press absolutely is an issue also for agricultural journalists. With the new strategy the IFAJ should do more on this matter. It’s not an option that agricultural journalists in non-free countries will not be supported.