Snezhana Todorova: Journalists around the world need unity in defense of their rights, not disunity

  • 01.02.2023
  • UBJ

The President of the UBJ commented on the case of the professional unions from Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland who announced their intention to leave the International Federation of Journalists. We offer details about the case, which the European Federation of Journalists presents in letters to its member organizations.

"The state of freedom of expression and of the media, as well as the rights of journalists worldwide, is very worrying. Having this in mind, there is an urgent necessity for journalists and their organizations around the world to unite in defence of their rights, not disunite. The UBJ considers that attempts to impose politically or geopolitically motivated decisions on the International Federation of Journalists or the European Federation of Journalists by some of their members are destructive, as these are non-political associations with purely professional, trade union and human rights objectives, in which there should be a place for all those who wish to be members, regardless of which countries they come from and what beliefs they hold. It is natural that in such broad-based organizations there should be a wide diversity of opinions and judgements, and that serious disputes may arise. But they must be resolved constructively, democratically, with due respect and consideration, with transparent deliberations and according to the voice of the majority."

This is how the chairwoman of the Union of Bulgarian Journalists (UBJ) Snezhana Todorova commented on the well-publicised in the media case of the professional unions from Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland who announced their intention to leave the International Federation of Journalists.

The UBJ, which is a collective member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its regional branch, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), was informed about the case by several letters received in recent days on behalf of the EFJ Administrative Committee and by EFJ President Maya North.

The letters notify the IFJ and EFJ member organizations of the development of an internal dispute between the IFJ leadership and some of its member organizations in Northern Europe. The EFJ has tried to mediate this dispute, but to no avail at least at this stage, the letters state.

As a result of the dispute, journalists' trade unions from Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland have announced that they wish to leave the IFJ. This could happen in half a year at the earliest, as the IFJ's rules provide for six months' notice if an organisation wishes to withdraw from the federation.

World news agencies, including BTA (Bulgarian News Agency, have spread the news, citing as the reason for the decision of the Nordic journalists' unions their allegations of "vicious" and "corrupt" activities in the way the IFJ has been run for years, and also the lack of a decision on their demanded expulsion of the Union of Journalists of Russia (UJR).

For its part, the IFJ, which represents 600,000 journalists from 146 countries around the world, dismisses the claims of its Nordic colleagues as "false, defamatory and untrue", explaining that an audit of its activities is carried out annually. As for the issue of the possible expulsion of the UJR, it has been put on the agenda for discussion as a single item at a meeting of the IFJ Executive Committee already scheduled for 22 January. This is the statutory and procedural order to discuss and take decisions of this nature.

The UJR also commented on the situation through its chairman Vladimir Solovyov, who says: "Finland, Denmark, Norway and other countries have long accused the leadership of the IFJ of corruption and that last year's congress of the federation was held in an authoritarian country - Oman. They are also demanding that the UJR be excluded from the IFJ. The reason is that at the 13th congress of the UJR it was announced that new local branches, established in the DPR, LPR, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions, would be included in its composition. However, the statutes of the IFJ do not regulate the exclusion of a member organization. No decisions have been taken so far about expelling  the UJR from the IFJ, we have not received any official documents. We are in constant contact with the leadership of the IFJ".

For further informing the journalistic community and the public in our country we want to cite the letter received by the UBJ on 31 January from the Administrative Committee of the EFJ to all member organizations of the two federations (UBJ is also member of both) concerning the case and its development:

"The EFJ Administrative Committee (Maya Sever, Mustafa Kuleli and Martine Simonis) met on Tuesday afternoon to assess the situation following today's announcement from four Scandinavian union -, the Danish Journalists' Union (Dansk Journalistforbund), the Finnish Journalists' Union (Suomen Journalistiliitto), the Icelandic Journalists' Union and the Norwegian Journalists' Union (Norsk Journalistlag) - of their withdrawal from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), after several months of discussions between the leaders of these unions and the IFJ leadership.

The Administrative Committee would like to inform the members of the EFJ that the EFJ takes this situation very seriously. On 13 January, the EFJ Steering Committee appointed an advisory group of five members (Maya North, Anna del Freo, Marta Barsenia, Andrea Roth and Pablo Aikel) who have engaged in dialogue with both sides in a spirit of unity and solidarity.

The group consulted the presidents of the Nordic trade unions to identify their expectations. The Nordic representatives focused on two issues.

The first is the demand for the temporary suspension from the IFJ of the Union of Journalists of Russia (UJR), which has not been a member of the EFJ for years, following the decision of that organization on October 24, 2022 to establish four regional branches of the UJR in the Ukrainian territories illegally annexed by Russia on 30 September this year. (See the EFJ statement on this occasion).

The second demand is to improve the transparency and governance of the IFJ.

On 25 January, after intensive consultations by the group's members with both sides, EFJ President Maya Sever presented the Scandinavians' complaints to IFJ President Dominique Pradalier, believing that a compromise was possible if both sides took a step towards each other in the interests of journalists in Europe and around the world.

On 27 January, at their meeting in Copenhagen, the IFJ President and the Scandinavian unions unfortunately could not find common ground.

The EFJ, which has made great efforts at reconciliation and dialogue, regrets that no agreement could be reached between the two sides. We feel that we have done everything possible to preserve unity, but we must also respect the right of any member to withdraw membership under the principles of freedom of association.

In accordance with the IFJ statute, which provides for a six-month notice period, the four unions remain full members of the IFJ until 31 July 2023.

The EFJ continues to believe that dialogue should prevail in the weeks and months ahead. The unions that have announced their departure from the IFJ have made it clear to us that they remain members of the EFJ and that they are prepared to reconsider in the future  their decision to leave the IFJ, depending on developments. The EFJ remains committed to contributing to the necessary dialogue in the spirit of unity and solidarity advocated by the EFJ Steering Committee. All goodwill among EFJ affiliates is welcome to contribute to a favourable outcome in the best interest of journalists."