Editorial Human Rights Opinion

World Press Freedom Day: Journalists Have Not Much to Celebrate Without Collective Bargaining of Labor Rights

Ebrima Sillah, Information minister

Fatoumatta: History does not reward political victory, and it rewards improvements in the human condition and human development. Therefore, the Gambia press deserves labor rights. It is time to see the Gambia government, the Gambia Press Union (GPU), and media owners adopt the Collective Bargaining Framework related to the International Labor Organization conventions 87,89, and 135 on the working condition of journalists, a redemptive landmark achievement in the struggle for press freedom.

While beseeching the support of media owners in bettering the conditions of service of journalists in the country, the press union should call on the Honorable Minister for Information, Communication and the Honorable minister responsible for labor rights to support efforts aimed at addressing the appalling labor situation in the media, which remains ever-present in the industry. The Collective Bargaining Framework for Journalists, supported by the International Federation of Journalists, seeks to enhance journalists’ labor and ethical standards, including wages.

Acknowledging the contributions and resilience of media employers and the entire media fraternity in creating and protecting the current media space in the country, journalists’ “bread and butter and safety” issues should be honestly confronted to safeguard the profession’s future. All veteran journalists and the press union should come together to continue to hold the ‘feet of the government to the fire’ in making negotiations and more concessions in finding answers to the working conditions of journalists because it is the embodiment of ethical journalism.

Fatoumatta: It is sad to note that the conditions of service for journalists and media workers in the Gambia remain alarming and appalling at the same time. Many journalists do not have acceptable conditions of service, and their employers are now used to making them work either as volunteers or without salaries for months. Journalists paid on time are paid ‘chicken change’ and operate under what can only be termed slave wages as their salaries cannot even sustain their needs of the monthly food basket. The people who create content and disseminate the news are challenged by the powerful by uncovering the truth. In this strange new era, we watch the powerful attack the idea that truth means anything, and journalists find themselves at the forefront of the resistance.

Gambian journalists need to build their power, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that addresses their needs and strengthens their voice. As reporters, researchers, editors, developers, and designers, we believe deeply in the press union’s founding mission, to hold the most powerful governmental and corporate factions accountable. We recognize our leadership’s tremendous lengths to ensure we have the editorial independence and legal protections to uphold this vision. With freedom of the press under direct attack from this administration and suspecting of the administration’s commitment to press freedom, it is appropriate to take new steps to strengthen their workplace culture and worker protections to ensure better fulfillment of the principles that guide our profession.

Fatoumatta: History demonstrates that journalists can most effectively defend their watchdog role by uniting their colleagues and proud to stand together with other journalists in the newsrooms represented in private and public media. Gambian journalists should understand the seriousness of the previous administration’s threats to workers’ economic and physical security in all industries and stand in solidarity with them today. With official hostility to the core and journalism principles reaching a fever pitch, they must unite with their colleagues in other newsrooms to protect their values. Unions have long played an essential role in holding governments and corporations accountable. So it is only fitting that they should carry on the tradition of unionization of all journalists under the Gambia Press Union.

Younger professionals want a voice in shaping their work lives. They recognize that collective bargaining is a vital way to engage in the decisions that affect how they work and how that work is valued. The press union should know that it was essential for them to listen and lead at every stage. They found that the online media content creators did not necessarily share the same aspirations and experiences as those working in more established parts of the media industry. So, they implemented meaningful and successful organizing campaigns based on what the employees wanted.

Prospective union members want greater transparency on the job. They want explicit, understandable rules about pay and benefits and other aspects of work, rather than obscure, improvised, or arbitrary shifts in policy and practice. They want to enhance and expand editorial independence, to be able to follow stories where they lead without fear that immediate commercial concerns would diminish the legitimacy and quality of their work. Moreover, they want to build real careers doing the job they enjoy and find meaningful.

Finally, they can proudly say that unionization brings tangible results to people working in the media. We have always prided ourselves on being a place of cultural and economic solidarity. In this place, journalists can come together to talk about their craft, socialize and network, and organize and negotiate to improve their working conditions.

Fatoumatta: A favorable environment and legislation should allow independent media to flourish. In addition, the concentration of media ownership should be regulated. Free and pluralistic media is crucial in a democracy. However, media freedom, pluralism, and independent journalism are facing increasing threats from political influence, economic pressures, and the changing media landscape. Journalists have become the first casualty of these threats. In recent years, journalists witnessed their labor rights diminishing, working conditions deteriorating, quality in journalism dropping, and the loss of public confidence in the media. Therefore, the right of journalists, particularly freelancers, to join a union and be represented in collective bargaining and agreement should be reinforced as guaranteed by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Fatoumatta: Like all workers, journalists are entitled to decent working conditions. However, their social and labor rights should be strengthened in national laws to prevent precarious working conditions that will put the quality of journalism at risk. For example, the Collective Bargaining Agreement in Ghana provides long service bonuses, annual pay raises, and clothing and housing allowances. In Nepal, union action secured an increase in the basic salary. In Chile, unions at some of the most important newspapers have negotiated a bonus for reusing their work in other media.

Freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain are fundamental rights recognized by the United Nations and the International Labor Organization. The national government or media companies should not be challenged. It insists that journalists must be free to join the union of their choice without fear of being discriminated against. Evidence has shown a historic national collective agreement in Palestine providing a commitment to guarantee the health and safety of journalists and additional payments for overtime and expenses. In addition, Italian, German and Austrian IFJ affiliates adopted collective agreements that have helped provide better conditions for self-employed or freelance workers.

Fatoumatta: Gambian journalists’ main concern is that most of these issues that they have raised have been raised before. They need action and commitment from the government. They need the protection of journalists from abuse from political forces and their employers. They need a fair working environment that promotes the growth of independent critical media. They need a legal environment that supports journalists’ work and allows the media to thrive as a community service to the nation. They need a conducive environment that treats the media sector as an equal opportunity employer and as a business. Using taxpayers’ money and state institutions like the Gambia’s Revenue Authority and the Gambia Police to suffocate the media must stop. Banning government wings and departments from advertising in private media and those media deemed critical of the state needs to stop.

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