CIoJ Press releases

Ghana High Commissioner to help resolve West Africa Magazine dispute

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23rd June 2004

The Chartered Institute of Journalists has asked the High Commissioner for Ghana to help resolve an 11-month dispute at West Africa Magazine.

Members of staff at the magazine have been trying in vain to contact representatives of the management company, Afrimedia International Limited, regarding outstanding salaries, pension contributions and p45s. However, all communications and attempts to seek clarification have been steadfastly ignored.

The majority shareholder in Afrimedia is Graphic Communications, which is owned by the government of Ghana. The Institute petitioned the High Commissioner to use his position and contacts within government to help persuade the management of Graphic Communications to take their responsibilities seriously and deal with the problems as a matter of urgency.

“We felt it important to make a direct appeal to someone with government connections in the hope that it may persuade Graphic Communications to take their responsibilities to their staff seriously” said Frank Afful, Managing Editor of the stricken West Africa Magazine. “This unfortunate development, which Graphic Group is not doing much to resolve, is not compatible with the tenets of human rights and is damaging the international image of the government and the good people of Ghana.”

West Africa Magazine had been in circulation for more than 80 years and was considered an authoritative African institution.

“Staff have not been paid, sacked or made redundant; they have just been left in limbo. The management company are no where to be seen and all communications are ignored,” said Institute of Journalists General Secretary, Dominic Cooper. “Passing the buck of responsibility is unacceptable. It is time for Graphic Communications and the Government of Ghana to make every effort to bring about a credible resolution to this matter by paying all outstanding staff salaries and compensation. The High Commissioner conceded at the meeting that the Graphic group has an ethical responsibility in this whole affair. They should take that responsibility seriously. For now, we continue to hope that there will be no need for us to seek redress through the courts.”

Mr Bernard Otabil business editor of West Africa magazine said, “it is incredible that Graphic Group does not see the damage that this affair is having on their reputation internationally as a leading publisher and respected state owned organisation in Ghana. The staff are determined to pursue this matter to ensure that they are paid for all the work they have done and appropriate compensation in line with UK employment laws is also paid.”



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2nd February 2004

The Chartered Institute of Journalists has joined other media industry organisations in condemning the Hutton Report for “whitewashing the Government’s role in the Kelly affair.

It is clear, from the evidence put before Lord Hutton, that mistakes were made by both the government and the BBC in their handling of this affair, yet Hutton fails to make any criticism of the Government whatsoever.

Lord Hutton’s criticism of Gilligan centres largely on his mistake – made in one live two-way interview – to suggest that the Government knew the ‘45 minute’ claim was probably wrong at the time the WMD dossier was published. But the length at which he goes to criticise Gilligan’s error threatens to overshadow what was otherwise a robust and largely true piece of investigative reporting. Suffice to say that, if it had not been for this story the public would probably never know that Downing Street did have some hand in shaping the way in which the WMD dossier was worded by the JIC. They would probably not know that the intelligence services were put under pressure from the Government to find more and harder evidence against Saddam Hussain in order to build the strongest possible case against him. And that maybe, due to the haste in securing new information and entering it into the dossier, this could well have led to the insertion of shaky intelligence, which falls apart under closer scrutiny.

Dominic Cooper, General Secretary of the Institute, said: “Many of us were surprised by Hutton’s decision to give the Government, in effect, a clean bill of health, when it was obvious during the enquiry hearings that Ministers and Downing Street officials had indeed sought to influence the way in which the report on WMDs in Iraq was presented, and in this way to manipulate media and public opinion.”

The BBC’s right to run this story should be defended. It has reaffirmed the position of journalism as the fourth estate of any good democracy, and demonstrated that when needed to, it will uphold its role as a public service broadcaster.

The Institute “believes strongly in the independence of the BBC and we will work alongside other media organisations to defend the BBC’s traditions and the preservation of the public service ethic,” Mr Cooper added.


Leading journalists’ organisation calls for tighter accreditation procedures

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24th July, 2002

The Chartered Institute of Journalists voices ‘grave concern’

As the anniversary of the tragic events in New York approaches, the Chartered Institute of Journalists is calling on the government to demand of the various organisations concerned that more rigorous accreditation procedures be adopted when processing applications for press cards to avoid the possibility of them falling into the wrong hands.

In addition, the Institute would like to see those companies who profit from compiling databases of so-called ‘journalists’ impose stricter qualifications for inclusion in their lists. At present many require no verification of employment or outlets and are willing to add applicant’s names to their registers in return for no more than a signed direct debit.

The Institute admits that such databases do not in themselves provide proof of formal accreditation but it is concerned that they do provide a readily accessible stepping-stone to full accreditation, with no questions asked. In many cases, the mere fact of being so registered could result in the receipt of press-calls and perhaps admit to sensitive locations people who pose a threat to National Security.

” We live in troubled times,” says Christopher Underwood, General Secretary of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, ” And it is a matter to us of grave concern that anyone with less-than-honest intent may easily gain recognition as a journalist and obtain all the privileges of press-card holders, including access to locations and events denied the general public. The value to a terrorist of being able to reconnoitre target buildings or achieve close proximity to senior government staff and even Cabinet ministers, should not be underestimated.”

The Chartered Institute of Journalists was established in 1884. Since that time it has been responsible for accrediting many thousands of qualified journalists but has experienced in recent years a growing number of applications from people who can prove neither formal training nor provide evidence of material having been published in recognised outlets.

As the oldest professional body of its kind anywhere in the world, and uniquely the holder of a Royal Charter, the Institute believes it has both the authority and experience to recommend urgent action from all responsible organisations and to insist the government take heed of its warning.


Journalists’ institute demands explanation for detention of Zimbabwean pressman

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5th February 2002

Reporter was due in London to receive institute’s medal for services to press freedom

The London-based Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) – the world’s oldest professional association for journalists – has demanded an immediate explanation for the unlawful detention of Basildon Peta, Secretary General of the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists, arrested and jailed in Harare yesterday on the orders of Zimbabwe’s Marxist President Robert Mugabe.

The General Secretary of the CIoJ, Chris Underwood, said he was writing to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the European Union’s External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten calling on them to “do all in their power” to put an end to attempts to gag the news media. Peta, the leading Zimbabwean journalist and campaigner for civil liberties, is due in London later this month to receive the CIoJ’s Gold Medal “for services to journalism and the freedom of the press”, on behalf of Zimbabwe’s independent media.

Underwood said: “At this time we are still not sure whether Basildon Peta will be able to make it to London or whether the dictator Mugabe will attempt to restrict his movements, or even re-arrest him, to prevent him from pursuing his journalistic duties until after the election in five weeks’ time. We are very concerned about Basildon Peta’s welfare, and that of our other journalist colleagues in Zimbabwe. “

“Ever since Mugabe came to power, his ZANU-PF regime has consistently attacked press freedom and violated human rights. The situation now is appalling, with a new law passed by Mugabe’s puppet parliament only last week that effectively outlaws independent journalism and wipes out all efforts to expose the truth about his corrupt government.”

Underwood continued: “The time has come for the British Government to take a much stronger stand against tyranny in Zimbabwe and use every means in its power to ensure that Basildon Peta and other Zimbabwean journalists are not routinely victimised. If Prime Minister Tony Bair fails to do so, what are we to make of his pledge to make Britain ‘a pivotal power’ and ‘a force for good in the world’?”


Journalists’ institute backs Government on Zimbabwe

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10th January 2002

The London-based Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) has welcomed calls by the British Government for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Commonwealth, in the light of the Harare regime’s persistent attacks on press freedom.

The CIoJ, which recently announced the presentation of its Gold Medal award to “the independent press of Zimbabwe”, has repeatedly called on the UK and other Commonwealth governments to demand that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe honours his commitments to human rights and freedom of the press.

“The CIoJ is pleased that the British Government has at last come out with a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the Mugabe regime – something that we have been urging for a considerable period of time”, said CIoJ General Secretary Chris Underwood. “We particularly welcome Jack Straw’s recognition that harassment of journalists provides a clear example of Zimbabwe’s serious and persistent violations of Commonwealth principles.”

President Mugabe yesterday announced that elections would be held in Zimbabwe in March, but the CIoJ believes that there is no prospect of these elections being “free and fair” while press freedom is under attack. Legislation passed by the Zimbabwean parliament allows for foreign journalists to be banned from the country and domestic journalists to be subject to further restrictions. Only journalists approved by the regime by will be permitted to pursue their profession.


Statement on Zimbabwe from the Chartered Institute of Journalists

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11th December 2001

It is becoming all too apparent that President Robert Mugabe is not prepared to risk the outcome of a free and fair result in next year’s Presidential election in Zimbabwe.

Earlier this month, Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court declared the occupation of farms by supporters of Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to be a legal act. This decision, which overturns all previous rulings, demonstrates the extent to which the Judiciary has been bent to the will of the Mugabe Government. Unfortunately, it is clear that Zimbabweans cannot expect to have recourse to the law of their own country in seeking redress for Government excesses.

Having tried, and failed, by intimidation, illegal imprisonment and torture, to muzzle Zimbabwe’s free press, the Zimbabean government is now attempting a similar legal route to close down the last area of civil society still prepared to speak out for democracy and human rights. New legislation, bluntly described as ‘obscene’ by Basildon Peta, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, will ensure that Zimbabwe’s journalists will, in future, have to toe the Government line or risk imprisonment.

Amongst the legislation proposed is a register of permitted publications and licensed journalists. Articles or publications identified as spreading ‘alarm and despondency’ – in other words, which offend Government sensitivities, will be banned. Absurd press ‘standards’, such as the requirements that all journalists should have degrees in journalism, will further limit the ability of unlicensed writers to earn a living.

Zimbabwe’s independent journalists are in the front line in defending what little remains of freedom in that country, a fact acknowledged by the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ), which has recently announced the award of its Gold Medal to the independent press of Zimbabwe. Grotesquely, Mugabe has linked his assault on press freedom with the international ‘fight against terrorism’. Western governments, and the British Government in particular, must now make it clear that Mr Mugabe and his regime are pariahs.


Journalists’ institute to award Gold Medal to Zimbabwe’s free press

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18th November 2001

Members of the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) have voted at their annual conference to award the Institute’s Gold Medal to “the independent press of Zimbabwe”.

The last Gold Medal to be awarded by the CIoJ was given to the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Baroness (Betty) Boothroyd, “for services to freedom of speech”. Other recipients have included reporter John McCarthy, who was kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon, and Harold Evans, the former editor of the Sunday Times, for that newspaper’s campaign on behalf of Thalidomide children.

A resolution proposed by the Institute’s Vice-President, Stuart Notholt, and seconded by Dr Ken Merddyn Jones of the CIoJ’s International Division, won the unanimous support of conference. The resolution stated:

“In recognition of the contribution made by the independent press of Zimbabwe to freedom of speech and human rights, in the face of continual state-sponsored intimidation and harassment, this Conference resolves to make the award of the CIoJ Gold Medal to the free press of Zimbabwe.”

During a wide-ranging debate on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, CIoJ conference delegates paid tribute to the courage and fortitude shown by editors and staff of that country’s remaining independent newspapers.

“As an organization representing not just independent journalists and news gatherers in the UK, but colleagues throughout the Commonwealth, we have an interest and responsibility for ensuring that professional journalists are free to conduct their lawful activities without fear of harassment or illegal detention,” said the CIoJ’s General Secretary, Chris Underwood.

“We have been concerned for some time about the deterioration of press freedoms in Zimbabwe, where increasing cases of violence and harassment against journalists have been recorded since 1999. In view of the current political climate in that country, it is no exaggeration to state that Zimbabwe’s independent journalists are the main guarantors of what remains of civil society in that country.”

He continued: “Awarding the CIoJ’s Gold Medal to the free press of Zimbabwe highlights our support for the efforts of these journalists to tell the truth about one of the world’s most vicious and anti-democratic regimes.”

The CIoJ is planning a ceremony to present the Gold Medal to a representative of the Zimbabwean free press early in the New Year. Elections are due to take place in Zimbabwe before April 2002, but the Government of President Robert Mugabe has so far refused to allow international observers to monitor the electoral process. As well as harassing and intimidating Zimbabwean newspaper staff, foreign journalists who have highlighted the appalling human rights situation in Zimbabwe have been expelled from the country.

h The guest speakers at this year’s CIoJ Annual Dinner were Robin Oakley, European Political Editor of CNN (and ex-BBC Political Editor) and Bob Marshall-Andrews, the outspoken Labour MP for Medway. The two-day conference and dinner were held at the Bridgewood Manor Hotel, Rochester, Kent. Delegates were welcomed to Rochester by the Mayor of Medway at a civic reception in their honour.


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