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.