General Assembly & Congress

International Association of Press Clubs

General Assembly and Congress

Brussels June 1st 2018

photo-presidence-groupe-van-marland

The inaugural session of the IAPC (International Association of Press Clubs) was held on June 1st in Brussels and organised by the Press Club Brussels Europe to launch its two-yearly presidency of IAPC and welcome to it the newly arrived press clubs from several African countries.

It fell on Cecile Jodogne, minister of the Brussels Regional Government, to welcome the participants and underline the ever-growing role of Brussels as a major communication hub “because of the high number of international journalists working here”.

“Brussels – she said – is a place to meet people, a place of ‘bien vivre, bon vivre’, with high quality schools, a good cultural life and high level of gastronomy, and from where there is an easy access to the rest of Europe”.

Jodogne also mentioned the imminent creation of a “media park Brussels” a new initiative which will help create a “real communication ecosystem”. At the centre of this hub there is the European Union that continues to thrive in spite of euro-scepticism given the increasing support from EU citizens (2/3 according to the latest Eurobarometer survey). And the approach of the European elections in 2019 for the renewal of the EU Parliament, for the first time without the United Kingdom, “will open a new era” with a more enlarged system of communication thanks to a much wider accessibility to internet which will require improving the training of journalists in this technology. This should help to fight fake news and disinformation. And the representatives of the Press Clubs have an important rôle to fulfil since “you help spread the real information”.

The Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Belgium Jimmy Jamar highlighted the rôle of Belgium “a complicated country where you meet north and south, rich and poor and where you need to look for compromises all the time”, and that of Brussels “probably one of the most multicultural capitals in the world, with 200 nationalities, rich in its diversity with high numbers of journalists and diplomats“. He spoke of the difficulties of the European Union where Brexit has put a halt to the process of its enlargement. “We have had crises in the past but we always had the possibility to go ahead. Now the United Kingdom seems to have stopped this process showing the EU’s fragility and the pressure is increasing from populist parties of which we have not yet assessed their real impact on democracy”. It is thus up to the Europeans – he concluded – to decide the future of this political project by insisting on its core values: democracy, tolerance, solidarity, rights.

The president of the Geneva Press Club, Guy Mettan, who had held the presidency of the IACP for the last two years, then passed the baton to the Brussels Press Club president Maroun Labaki. He recalled the very first meeting of the IACP in 2002 in Dubai where the need to build bridges across continents was highlighted. “We are now happy to open the floor to African and Caribbean colleagues” he said hoping that the present crisis of media in the old world  could be solved thanks also to the renewed energy of some countries of the non-western world.

The president of the Press Club Brussels Europe Maroun Labaki, a former editor of the Belgian daily “Le Soir”, accepted the challenge of running the presidency and indicated that during these two years the Brussels Press Club will be even more involved in the defence of the freedom of the press and dedicated this presidency to two of the journalists killed recently in Europe, Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak. “The world of information is becoming more and more complicated – he said – with the decline of quality press and quality journalism. Public authorities and our society do not realize this but their future is at stake”.

The vice-president of the IAPC Jaroslaw Wlodarczyk then announced that the new vice president for the next two years will be Martyn Bond from the London Press Club. “We are now over 40 press clubs in more than 20 countries” he said and reminded the members that “freedom of expression and independence of the media have been included in our statutes”. A press club, he said, “does not represent journalists but represents values” to expand all over the world. To uphold these values the IAPC gives a yearly prize for information to journalists and media. The winner this year is the British daily newspaper “The Guardian”.

The general manager of the Brussels Press Club Laurent Brihay gave a brief overview of the history of the club, founded 8 years ago as an initiative of the international press association and the government of Brussels Capital with two structures managing it: the journalists who are represented on the board and the management of the premises.   He explained that the members include journalists, lobbying companies and embassies represented in the diplomatic platform which so far has 65 embassies using the Brussels Press Club. He mentioned some historic conferences organised at the Brussels Press Club including the recent one by the former president of the Catalonian government Carles Puigdemont. Brihay also explained the rôle of “Visit Brussels” working to promote  the image of the city as a communication hub. He highlighted the complete independence of the Press Club from political constraints from Belgium or elsewhere in the world. “We welcome anybody  because we believe that everybody has the right to express themselves” he said and explained the rôle of the Press Club in relaunching the importance of culture with the creation of a cultural platform aiming at giving relevance also to regional and local structures.

Erisa Zykaj, vice-president of the board of the PCBE and a journalist in Brussels for Albanian media, added that the idea is to start from Croatia by encouraging the Croatian embassy to act and then we could decide where the HQ of this federation of the Balkan press club will be located. The Balkan journalists are in agreement of this project and we are only waiting for the official support.

Jonathan Kapstein, former president of the board of the Brussels press Club and representing the New York Press Club, asked what the timetable will be for the Balkan Press Club. Erisa Zykaj replied that the idea will be proposed next September and hopes for financial supporters.

Vanessa Kacherginsky from the Jerusalem Press Club expressed her appreciation for the Palestinian Press Club and said the Jerusalem Press Club always involves Palestinians in their initiatives. She promised the support of the Jerusalem Press Club also with its experience and knowledge of journalists working in the Middle East. She also provided information about relevant projects in the Jerusalem Press Club, e.g., the international congress for the freedom of the press. After one in 2015 and another one in 2017 on fake news they will organise a third one in Spring 2019 although the theme has still to be decided. The IAPC and the European Federation of Press Clubs will support the project. She also mentioned the launch of a cartoon competition “Cartoon, criticism and care” a project that will be advertised globally.

Abdou Gningue (Senegal): All projects which help advance the rôle of the press are important. I took inspiration from the Brussels Press Club but in Senegal many journalists do not want to involve the government in their initiatives. In Senegal we want to create regional clubs establishing contacts among them. We have contacted our telecom company for financial help and would like that journalists try to help us with finding financial support. We plan to have a big launch conference in Abuja or Dakar.

Ahmadou Camara (Guinea Press Club). The Guinean Press Club was created with European funds and all our journalist associations are members of the network. We took the initiative and the EU and France helped us. The clubs include all press associations of the area (TV, sport media, economic media etc). At the beginning the EU helped us then we continued by letting some of our meeting rooms.

Mahmoudou Sy (Mauritanie): We have created a press association and it is progressing.

We organised a meeting with Unesco and 70 journalists took part. Now  the press club exists. The federation of the Press and Press Centres in Africa is based in Burkina Faso and dedicated to Blaise Compaoré. The fundamental issue for us is the big problem  of repression of the freedom of the press.

Amadou Tham Camara (Guinea): Every country has its own problems with finances. The EU Commission have accepted to finance our project after the killing of 157 people in my country

Mamoudou Sy (Mauritania): the only country that initially accepted to finance us has been France and afterwards also Denmark contributed.

Abdou Gningue (Senegal). The solution we found was to rent a building of 5 floors. The organisation that holds it all together is the press club. There are some Press Centres in Africa but the difference between us and them is that in our club there are only journalists. They protested because the government has nominated an external manager. However the state does not interfere in our activities. We manage the building. It is all the press associations of the country that manage the building

Mahmoudou Sy (Mauritania): We manage it together and we nominate a person responsible for this. Also Mali, Burkina and Ivory Coast have the same pattern.

Brian Hatyoka (Zambia): We have 20 press clubs not a national one. They are very vibrant organisations. We feel very strongly for media freedom and we hope to learn from you how you manage to survive in your day to day business and how do you attract the interest for all your activities.

Gregor Kupper (Brussels Press Club): Independence is the key to be able to operate in this way. It is the same with public authorities. You don’t want the state to finance you or even a section of your activity. You can always think of other initiatives. If you don’t have embassies, start looking inside Africa and there will be success. Many companies are keen to reduce corruption and know the importance of a free press. See to build your income on as many sources as possible.

Aboubakar Karsan Msabila Karsan  (Tanzania): We have 28 members who compose our club. We have Tanzania and Zanzibar press club. We have 3,000 members all over Tanzania and we operate with a five-year strategic plan through which we look for funds. We have 40 salaried employees. We provide training and exchange visits for journalists. We invite women in our initiatives and we want women to become editors. We are trying to share two kinds of operations:

1) strategic plan: all members participate

2) individual projects: we decide each time which organisations to support. It is quite tough for small press clubs from developing countries: you have to make clear the object of your organisation. Do not imitate what other people do, do what is best for your organisation.

Cheik Fita (Cong, he lives in Belgium). In Kinshasa there is a Maison de la Presse. Since information in Congo is very important it is necessary to involve also young journalists. The press club should become a real “caisse de resonance” (sounding-board).

Amadou Tham Camara (Guinea): Our policy in Africa is linked to events. We ask for a support to help us to better manage our organisation. For us for example one big issue regards visas.

Steve Lewis (Sydney Press Club): Our club was created in 1963. The message for us is to try to work out the financial system for running our club. It is important to be independent and politically neutral: this is the basis of free speech. Journalists can always ask questions and this is the deal. Our club runs political debates during the election period. In the last 12 months we have increased the number of female speakers. Thanks to Guy Mettan for having such a long commitment to IAPC. Australia is also the secretariat of the Asia Pacific press clubs. There are several press clubs in Asia even in Mongolia at Ulan Bator which are quite difficult to get to. We are in discussion with Taiwan but it is not easy with China. We want journalists to come also from outside Asia Pacific area if they want to participate. We need to encourage to host these international meetings. We are a rich and diverse set of clubs and share the same ideas.

Waiel Awwad ( India Press Club). We have been surviving for a long time in India! What we have seen is that there are National and Foreign press clubs. The National press clubs are more linked to the government funds but we have always refused to accept national or corporate funding. How did we manage? We involved foreign missions but only their press attaches can be members of our club. We have now corporate journalists and a diplomatic section. We have been active for 27 years. We do not want to compromise and we want to keep the independence of journalism. This is, together with transparency, important for us: this is the basis for all. India is thinking of hosting the IAPC from 2022. In 2000 it will be London.

Odair Varela Rodrigues (Cape Verde). I am a journalist and professor of journalism. There is no press club in Cape Verde: I am here to learn from your experiences and take your advice for Cape Verde. It is the first time since the ’90s when we took a step along the free press. We are having troubles in our country regarding the freedom of the press especially for financing: media that are independent are closing. The money from the state is not enough and we experience a lot of challenges to the capacity and experience of the press. We have issues of corruption and for us it is very important to make this experience with you here and try to adapt it to our reality.

Martyn Bond (London Press Club) I look forward to welcoming you in 2020 for our presidency. As I hear the stories from the African press clubs I wonder if there is more room for a different African grouping and not only linked to the ACP. Maybe we could create smaller groups of experience.

Jaroslav Wlodarczyk: In Poland we have a very conservative government. In Warsaw journalists were prevented from entering the Parliament and offered another building nearby. We refused because we want to keep our independence. In Warsaw we say: I support the press club and the press club will support you. We are expecting difficult times but the press club is becoming more popular among journalists. In Dec. 2017 in Warsaw 40 media outlets united in a protest but this was not mentioned in the press and the photos were pixelated. And this the politicians did not like. For us this is a unique opportunity to raise interest in the press.

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