Moscow hosts journalists' jamboree

The 26th congress of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is underway in Moscow. This meeting is held every three years and is one of the largest gatherings of journalists in the world.

The IFJ aims to protect and promote press freedom around the globe. It was established in 1926 and now represents at least 500,000 journalists from more than 100 countries.

Moscow is hosting this congress for the first time. This is done to mark the input of the Russian journalists into international mass media, according to the organisers.

The slogan of the congress is 'Making News for Democracy'.

There are three key issues at the congress – the safety of journalists, the quality of coverage of the events in the war zones and conflict zones, and the future of journalism in general.

The year 2006 broke records in the number of journalists killed. Their safety will be one of the focal points of the congress. And one of the congress’ major concerns is the lack of justice for workers in the media who have become victims of violence.

85% of journalists killed in the last 15 years all over the world were murdered with impunity, and unfortunately their number continues to grow.

Meanwhile, Russia is considered to be among the most dangerous countries to be a reporter. The killing of Anna Politkovskaya received the most attention, but it was not the first and probably won't be the last death of a journalist in Russia.

Dmitry Muratov, the Editor-in-Chief of Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked, said his team lost three of its best reporters and their killers still remain at large.

“In case of Anna, the prosecutors are doing their job well. But I am really afraid that their investigation may soon be politicised and pushed towards a result that would satisfy politicians. I am really concerned this may happen,” Mr Muratov says.

Concerns over politicians’ involvement in criminal investigations are not limited to Russia. All over the congress hall were posters of Terry Lloyd, a British television reporter killed in Iraq in 2003. An inquest into his death reportedly concluded that he was killed by U.S. troops but his colleagues doubt his killers will ever face justice.

“That is one of the best examples of impunity that three years after he died it is impossible to get the American authorities to negotiate or even to co-operate so that the alleged killers could be brought to justice,” believes Jim Boumelha from the UK National Union of Journalists.

When it comes to security, Iraq is the most dangerous place for journalists. About 200 of them were killed since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion. So, Russian journalists believe the issue of safety is a global problem, not a Russian one alone.

The Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White, agrees to that opinion.

“We are here in Russia today but we could have been in any other part of the world. We could have been in Mexico, we could have been in Columbia, or in the Philippines. The problem with impunity in killings of journalists is one that is a global problem,” he noted.

Maksim Shevchenko, a TV presenter from Russia's Channel One, said being a journalist literally means risking one's life.

“Like a politician, a journalist must be prepared to die for his convictions. A journalist must be prepared to declare them, and fight for them. Journalists should not think of money they could get for such declarations, like many Russian journalists unfortunately think. I remember my colleagues who died while doing their job. I personally had times when I was on the brink of death. I do not think anyone should dare to make jokes about us. It is a courageous and daring community,” he stated.

Disappointingly, none of the politicians that have been scheduled to attend this congress made an appearance there.

“We’d like to welcome here friends and representatives of governments to come to that process,” said Christopher Warren, IFJ President.

Meanwhile, the participants of the congress still have a number of issues to discuss that relate strictly to this profession, for example, an issue of journalists’ training and the diminishing of trust that general public has in journalists.

A prominent Russian TV journalist from the Rossiya Channel, Arkady Mamontov, expressed the view that Russia is often subjectively viewed by foreign journalists, and needs its own model of the freedom of speech.

“I don't feel any restrictions in what I am doing. I serve my country, my state, when telling about our problems, and about our achievements. Journalists must speak about everything, but in a proper tone, without mocking. I know some foreign colleagues who would come here are like in a circus with white bears, and start talking about how bad everything is here.  So we shouldn’t have illusions about the freedom of speech how they see it – we have our own kind,” he stressed.