Alagi Yorro Jallow

History doesn’t reward political victory, it rewards improvements in the human condition and human development.

The Gambia press deserve labor rights. It’s time to see the Gambia government, the Gambia Press Union (GPU) and media owners adopt the Collective Bargaining Framework as relates 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 the labor and ethical standards for journalists, 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, the “bread and butter and safety” issues of journalists should be honestly confronted to protect the future of the profession.

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.

It is sad to note that the conditions of service for journalists and media workers in the Gambia remains bad and appalling at the same time.

A lot of 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. For journalists that are paid on time are paid ‘chicken change’ and operate under what can only be termed as slave wages as their salaries cannot even sustain their needs of monthly food basket.

The people who create content and disseminate the news are challenge by the powerful by uncovering the truth. In this strange new era, we watch the powerful attack the idea that truth means anything at all, and journalists find themselves on the forefront of the resistance.

Gambian journalists need to build their own 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, and we recognize the tremendous lengths to which our leadership has gone to ensure we have the editorial independence and legal protections to uphold this vision.

With freedom of the press under direct attack from the Yahya Jammeh’s administration and suspecting of the current administration commitment to press freedom, it is an appropriate time to take new steps to strengthen our workplace culture and worker protections to better ensure fulfillment of the principles that guide our profession.

History demonstrates that journalists can most effectively defend their watchdog role by uniting with 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 the economic and physical security of workers in all industries, and today stand in solidarity with them. With official hostility to the core and journalism principles reaching a fever pitch, it’s essential that we unite with our colleagues in other newsrooms to protect our values.

Unions have long played a key role in holding governments and corporations accountable. It’s only fitting that we 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, and 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.

Our union understood that it was essential for us to listen as well as lead at every stage. We found that the online media content creators did not necessarily share the same aspirations and experiences as people who work in more established parts of the media industry. From the outset, we implemented meaningful and successful organizing campaigns founded on what the employees want.

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. And they want to build real careers doing the work they enjoy and find meaningful. We can proudly say that unionization is bringing tangible results to people working in the media.

We have always prided ourselves as being a place of both cultural and economic solidarity; a place where journalists can come together to talk about their craft, to socialize and network and to organize and negotiate to improve their working conditions. Favorable environment and legislation should be created to allow independent media to flourish and the concentration of media ownership should be regulated.

A free and pluralistic media is crucial in a democracy. But 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.

The right of journalists, particularly of freelances, to join a union and be represented in collective bargaining and agreement, should be reinforced as guaranteed by the charter of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Like all workers, journalists are entitled to decent working conditions. Their social and labor rights should be strengthened in national laws to prevent precarious working conditions that will put quality in journalism at risk.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement in Ghana provides for long service bonuses; annual pay rises 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 in the country have negotiated a bonus for reuse of 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 that should not be challenged by national government nor media companies. It insists that journalists must be free to join the union of their choice without fear of being discriminated.

Evidenced has shown an historic national collective agreement in Palestine providing a commitment to guarantee the health and safety of journalists and additional payments for overtime and expenses. Italian, German and Austrian IFJ affiliates adopted collective agreements that have helped to provide better conditions for self-employed or freelance workers.

Our main concern is that most of these issues that we have raised have been raised before. We need action and commitment from the government. We need protection of journalists from abuse from political forces and from their employers. We need a fair working environment that promotes the growth of independent critical media. We need a legal environment that supports the work of journalists and that allows the media to thrive as a community service to the nation. We need a conducive environment that treats the media sector as an equal opportunity employer and as businesses.