Landmark international framework agreement signed in media sector

In July 2007, the International Federation of Journalists and Europe’s leading newspaper publisher, the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) Media Group, signed the first-ever international framework agreement in the media sector. The agreement aims to protect the freedom of the press, as well as to promote quality standards in journalism and to secure fair working conditions for employees in the media.

On 4 July 2007, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the German-based Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) Media Group (WAZ Mediengruppe) signed a Framework agreement on the defence and promotion of freedom of the press, quality journalism and good labour relations in companies of the WAZ Media Group. The agreement was signed by the IFJ Secretary-General, Aidan White, and the WAZ Managing Director (MD), Bodo Hombach. This international framework agreement is the first-ever such agreement to be signed in the media sector.

The WAZ Media Group, with headquarters in Essen in western Germany, is one of Europe’s leading publishers of newspapers and periodicals. The group has a total annual turnover of about €2 billion, employs around 16,000 workers and has printing operations in 17 locations throughout Europe, including Germany, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia and Montenegro.

Framework agreement

The agreement underlines the mutual interest of WAZ, IFJ and EFJ in the sustainability of media and publishing enterprises worldwide. It also aims to foster the supply of high quality, professional and ethical media and information services. Furthermore, the agreement stresses the value of internationally accepted labour relations and human resources (HR) practices.

Fundamental principles and values

The parties agree to respect the following principles and values:

In addition, the parties have agreed to respect the core principles of cooperation, such as the defence of freedom of the press and quality journalism.

Implementation

In the agreement, it is laid down that the parties will meet at least once a year. The meeting shall consist of a group forum in which trade union representatives from each national unit and local management shall meet with IFJ and EFJ and with representatives of the central management. A sub-committee will be established to consider the structure and content of the group forum discussions.

Furthermore, it is planned to set up working groups in all of the countries in which WAZ operates, to ensure that the agreement and basic operating principles are followed in every WAZ publication. The agreement also provides for training programmes tailored for reporters and editors, in order to promote independent reporting and to discourage support from particular political parties or politicians.

Agreement sets important precedent

According to IFJ’s Secretary-General, Mr White, the agreement represents: ‘a breakthrough, which paves the way for similar initiatives with other transnational enterprises. Social dialogue in favour of quality in journalism will secure the future for all media.’ He adds that ‘this is the first step in our work to ensure that global media companies set standards worldwide to provide for quality reporting and decent working conditions’.

The Waz Group’s MD, Mr Hombach, highlights that through this framework agreement, WAZ has once again shown its interest in quality journalism. In his view, credibility represents the most important asset of this objective. Mr. Hombach also expressed his hope ‘that every decent publishing company will have agreed to this framework agreement in a few years’ time’.

The agreement has also been supported and welcomed by the European Commission (EC) as an industry-based effort to strengthen quality journalism in Europe. The EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, confirmed that she would pledge the support of the European Union for this agreement and for other future agreements.

Volker Telljohann and Maite Tapia, Institute for Labour Foundation, Bologna

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