Image

Peter Quaqua, President of WAJA (Pic: Gambia Affairs)

The President of the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) has disclosed plans and programs he intends to pursue in the next three years to address the issues of media development and freedom of expression in West Africa.

In an interview with the Gambia Affairs, an online publication in The Gambia Affairs, Mr. Peter Quaqua said protection and empowerment of journalists, improvement in their welfare, and a strong solidarity among journalists unions in the region will top priorities of his tenure.

“Every trade union organization must spend a better part of its time and resources seeking the welfare and protection of its members,” the renowned Liberian journalists said.

“As you may be aware,” he furthered, “the working condition of journalists in the sub-region remains wanting and therefore a key subject. In fact WAJA is teaming up with the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, in conducting a two-day conference in Cotonou, Benin between 22 -23 June 2014 to discuss the condition of service of journalists.”

Quaqua said the hope of the Cotonou conference is to revive the approved Collective Bargaining Framework for West African journalists, adding, “Only a few countries have so far adopted the document. This should be a burden for all union leaders because it is one of the indicators for a truly independent and free press.”

The former two-time President of the Press Union of Liberia noted that …We are also concerned about the legal and political environments in which journalists do their work.”

The media remains soft target for most corrupt governments in the ECOWAS community, he declared. “They are keen on stifling the media and on harshly punishing press offenses. This trend must change and that’s why we must seek partnership with the ECOWAS authority. We shall call the attention of our political leaders and seek to revive and strengthen our observatory status at ECOWAS. We will be pushing to harmonize some of the laws regulating the media. I am talking about criminal defamation, insults laws, access to information among others things to increase greater openness in the governance of the sub-region.”

 Correspondingly WAJA will encourage strong self-regulatory regimes across the sub-region to check those in media ranks who choose recklessness over professionalism, Quaqua noted.

“This is one area we will be asking for the solidarity of all journalists who are true to their calling. To uphold the public trust, we must hold each other accountable.”

 On Capacity development, Quaqua stated that it remains a long-term objective of WAJA. “Capacity here means training and economic empowerment. And this is the area we will be asking for share responsibility with the society. Our political leaders in the sub-region profess to be democratic so it should make sense for them to see media as a sector to be developed since media is understood to be an indispensible pillar of democratic governance. I am talking about placing media on the deployment agenda. I reckon, these are the foundations of a free press, without which a society does not function properly.”

In order for WAJA to adequately respond to its calling, Quaqua member unions must play their respective roles in resource mobilization, asserting that it is one of the challenges that should be countered by the administration.

“There are always challenges and opportunities in human engagements,” Quaqua maintained. “As an organization that is driven by projects, and I mean donor driven, there’s obviously a challenge of fund raising. We must do well to attract funding to be able to adequately respond to some of the issues that affect the practice of journalism and the safety of journalists in the sub-region. That remains a huge challenge.”

The way to minimally deal with this challenge, Quaqua went on, is for member Unions/associations to take ownership of WAJA. “A yearly hundred United States Dollars (US$100) dues per member might seem too small to sustain the organization, but it is the first statement of our collective support and commitment to keeping it afloat….And this is a precursor going forward.”

Quaqua was elected Saturday (Apr 26, 2014) at the 8th Ordinary Congress WAJA in Abuja, Nigeria, succeeding Mr. Mohammed Garba from Nigeria, who was recently elected President of the Federation of African Journalists.

Quaqua, a media and social rights activist of 18 years served the Press Union of Liberia for nine years spanning from 2004 to 2013, where he grew from the position of Assistant Secretary-General, to Secretary-General and then President for two terms.

As a vocational journalist, he spent nine years in the journalism field working for a number of news outlets including State radio, Liberia Broadcasting System, The Liberian Standard Newspaper, the Catholic run Radio Veritas, Reporters without Borders (alternative reporter) and FrontPage Africa (Online).

Before ascending to the position of president of WAJA in 2014, Quaqua had the privilege of being elected Treasurer in 2010. To read the full interview click the following link : http://gambiaaffairs.com/?p=950  or read it below

Gambia Affairs (http://gambiaaffairs.com/)

Interview with President of West African Journalists Association, WAJA

Mr Peter Quaqua was born in Liberia. He spent nine years in the field of journalism. He graduated from the University of Liberia with a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communication. He was a Chevening fellow at the University of York, United Kingdom.

 

In this exclusive interview with Gambia Affairs, he began by telling us about himself and plans put in place to address the issues of media development and freedom of expression in West Africa.

Below is excerpt of the interview.

First, please tell us about yourself ?

“My name is Peter Quaqua, a media and social rights activist of 18 years. I served the Press Union of Liberia for nine years spanning from 2004 to 2013, where I grew from the position of Assistant Secretary-General, to Secretary-General and then President for two terms.”

“As a vocational journalist, I spent nine years in the journalism field having worked for a number of news outlets including State radio, The Liberia Broadcasting System, The Liberian Standard Newspaper, the Catholic run Radio Veritas, Reporters without Borders (alternative reporter) and FrontPage Africa (Online).”

“Before ascending to the position of president of WAJA in 2014, I had the privilege of being elected Treasurer in 2010. I hold a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communication from the University of Liberia; Certificate in Radio Production from the Egyptian Institute of African Broadcasters and a Diploma in Journalism from the Institute of Commercial and Airline Studies in Monrovia. Also a Chevening Fellow of Conflict Studies at the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, Department of Politics, University of York, United Kingdom. While it should not matter, I like to add that I am happily married with a kid”.

Share with us challenges that you inherit as new WAJA President, and plans to addressing those challenges?

“There are always challenges and opportunities in human engagements. As an organisation that is driven by projects and I mean donor driven, there’s obviously a challenge of fund raising. We must do well to attract funding to be able to adequately respond to some of the issues that affect the practice of journalism and the safety of journalists in the sub-region. That remains a huge challenge. And the way to minimally deal with this challenge is for member Unions/associations to take ownership of WAJA. A yearly hundred United States Dollars (US$100) dues per member might seem too small to sustain the organisation, but it is the first statement of our collective support and commitment to keeping it afloat. We shall, as a matter of necessity, seek to strengthen our secretariat in order to diversify our resource [including human capital] mobilisation. And this is a precursor going forward.”

What will you do to bring about unity and solidarity among West African journalists?

“The two words appear the same, but I would safely pick solidarity, since unity would mean different things to me given the entrenched diversity in our cultural beliefs and practices in the sub-region. I am not saying we cannot achieve unity, but it seems to me a big subject that even our forefathers of “Pan-Africanism” did not realised. In fact it is those things we called ‘disunity’ that should make us think better and critically as journalists. We should however do all within our means to strengthen our solidarity. I refer to it as the biggest weapon we have to fight the enemies of repression – without solidarity we are crushed one by one and the public interest is not served. Our approach would be to increase the visibility of WAJA across the sub-region. Essentially, we shall reinforce our networking through a vigorous monitoring and alert infrastructure that will document any and all attacks, threats and distress on any journalist across West Africa. As of May 2014 we are calling on all member unions to begin reporting anything that potentially threatens the safety of a journalist in their countries for rapid response and documentation. In this way, we can mobilise a collective action of members and partners.”

What are your key priority areas, which you intend to work on during your term?

“Every trade union organisation must spend a better part of its time and resources seeking the welfare and protection of its members. As you may be aware, the working condition of journalists in the sub-region remains wanting and therefore a key subject. In fact WAJA is teaming up with the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, in conducting a two-day conference in Cotonou, Benin between 22 -23 June 2014 to discuss the condition of service of journalists. The hope is to revive the approved Collective Bargaining Framework for West African journalists. Only a few countries have so far adopted the document. This should be a burden for all union leaders because it is one of the indicators for a truly independent and free press.”

“But we are also concerned about the legal and political environments in which journalists do their work. The media remains soft target for most corrupt governments in the ECOWAS community – they are keen on stifling the media and on harshly punishing press offenses. This trend must change and that’s why we must seek partnership with the ECOWAS authority. We shall call the attention of our political leaders and seek to revive and strengthen our observatory status at ECOWAS. We will be pushing to harmonise some of the laws regulating the media. I am talking about criminal defamation, insults laws, access to information among others things to increase greater openness in the governance of the sub-region.”

“Correspondingly we will encourage strong self-regulatory regimes across the sub-region to check those in our ranks who choose recklessness over professionalism. This is one area we will be asking for the solidarity of all journalists who are true to their calling. To uphold the public trust, we must hold each other accountable.”

“Capacity development remains a long-term objective of WAJA – capacity here means training and economic empowerment. And this is the area we will be asking for share responsibility with the society. Our political leaders in the sub-region profess to be democratic so it should make sense for them to see media as a sector to be developed since media is understood to be an indispensible pillar of democratic governance. I am talking about placing media on the deployment agenda. I reckon, these are the foundations of a free press, without which a society does not function properly.”

There is little solidarity between West African Press unions or associations. Don’t you think there is need for West African journalists to network and support each other?

“As stated earlier, solidarity is indispensible to the safety of journalists and perpetuating the public interest. Our choices are limited. So there is no room for self-righteousness here otherwise you are soon a history and your story is never told. But I should also say that without the solidarity of the membership of WAJA, we at the leadership level will not be able to successfully serve you.”

Freedom of expression and media development will be threatened without better pay for journalists. In your view, what are some of the modalities that should be put in place to address these issues?

“I agree with you 100%. And this is what makes solidarity the catch word here – and it should be our slogan because again, this calls for collective action. We must enlist the solidarity and support of media owners and [government] labor authorities in addressing the question of better pay for journalists. For me this is a threat from within that we should not be ashamed of. As we confront the external threats, so must we fight the internal threats. And this subject is at the heart of some of the ethical failures in the profession. We are not asking employers/owners to give their employees/journalists the whole world; not their entire possessions. All we ask for is a livable wage with improved conditions. But as said earlier, the collective bargaining framework should be able to answer some of these questions. We therefore plead with all media owners to cooperate so that together we can standardise the industry.”

There is the need to create a smooth government–media relations in countries like The Gambia, Burkina Faso, among others. What will your executive do create such a relationship with a view to creating more space for media freedom in West Africa?

“I am very aware that the journalism practice is always a risky profession, and the situation can be more pronounced and dangerous in some regions and countries. But the creativity and courage we bring to the practice can be the point of departure – at least for a moment to serve the greater good of society. Every union leader should seek areas and ways to partner with government to enhance their work, without necessarily compromising the public trust and the safety and well-being of journalists. It is very possible to do both, you just have to be professional and maintain you integrity. We look forward to the opportunity to pay visits to all our member countries to understand their problems first-hand and explore ways to engage authorities on some of the vexing issues. My friends, for me the struggle for media/press freedom is a life time commitment. We should never miss an opportunity to speak the truth with respect whether it is to a colleague, member of the public or an authority of government. It is actually the truth that can change people, however soft or hard it may sound.”

Anything finally that you may want to say?

“Permit me to say thanks for insisting on this interview. I would have evaded you in the face of competing engagements. So, before I start repeating myself, my regards and solidarity to all Gambian journalists. Please keep the torch burning.”

Thank you.

 

 

Advertisements