media punk

I posted this text on Facebook so I think it can surely be put up here as well. After a few years as a member in Latvian Association of Journalists I feel something is deeply wrong with the organization structure and management style. Can it be changed? I don’t know. But at the moment I feel like — enough is enough, no more internal discussions without any result. If I can’t ignite one ounce of change, I can at least speak my mind.

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What’s wrong with our people? I criticize publicly journo organization where I am member for acting slowly in responding to judgment in Egypt. Among other things – that the statement which was quoted in media was still not published on the organization’s website hours after it was released to the press. And believe me, that website is not updated very frequently in general.

To this I get a response – “why don’t you do it yourself?”.

I mean, seriously, where is my membership fee going? I can help with updating the website, but not for free on continuous basis. The organization is paying for web services and so on, and those guys are doing actually not more than just giving some server space and checking that the website is up and running.

Last year it actually happened that the website was down – because the domain name fee was not paid. Only when I wrote an e-mail that “hello, our website is down” to our chairman, somebody noticed this idiotic mismanagement, fee was paid and website restored.

A couple of years ago I actually agreed to help putting some texts on the website as a volunteer. It ended up with me discussing with the webmaster if and what kinds of access I actually am entitled to get, plus all the instructions on how to put texts, where, in which format were so chaotic and badly managed that I could not go on with that for a long time… Still, for example, the part about membership cards on the website was proposed, developed and implemented by basically just me – I had to literally hunt people to get the necessary information for it…

I have come up with tons of initiatives of what we could do without even getting a thank you. I proposed to make a podcast on media issues and even recorded one, that’s where it ended. I made a Facebook group and somebody yelled at me in our internal mailing list – “who do you think you are and what are you doing”. I organized a small event where a few journalists had a guitar jam session – almost none of the members showed up. When a news producer at public service radio expressed some crazy homophobic views publicly I proposed that we could take up this issue. First I got a reply that she is not our member, period – although our ethics commission is actually allowed to initiate a discussion about non-members. Later I was harassed in our internal mailing list for “being a fascist” and “against freedom of speech”. In the end that producer lost her job because of her behavior, however, discussions were lost…

I proposed to create a normal e-mail address for our organization instead of @gmail.com. We should look professional shouldn’t we? It was never even properly discussed, basically I got barked at me that it’s not needed.

It happened once that organization board issued a statement with which a considerable number of members could not agree. I was the one who chose to state that publicly on my blog. Instead of answering publicly, I heard stories about some board members being upset about “that guy who writes on his blog”. The board never took back the dubious statement.

Before one of the annual meetings the board asked to submit proposals for changes in our statutes. I sat down, talked to some lawyers, made a draft of a number of possible points to change or introduce. There was almost no discussion about these points in the internal mailing list (while everybody was welcome), but when I arrived to the meeting the discussions started with an unknown person yelling to me “why did you turn in so many proposals, are you a graphomaniac”, then one member of the board dismissed some of my points as legally non-admissible. To hell with the lawyers whom I consulted. This year however a very dubious change to our ethics code was suddenly introduced by a new member and accepted at the annual meeting – the proposal was never discussed internally before the meeting. The differences between me and him? He is a professor, authority, you know…

When I reported two articles to our ethics commission for review of possible violations (basically the author was presenting his own inventions as facts), I never got any reply, not even that they would have received my submissions – although they have to reply according to the statutes. I posted my submissions on my blog. I wrote to our chairman. No reply to this day – and that journalist is not a member in our organization anymore. Ethics in action, right…

These were just a couple of examples of what I have tried to do as a common member of the organization. There are more… And after this some people have guts to say that I have done nothing, blame me for being inactive and just criticizing. Seriously?

At the same time, the board has achieved literally nothing with regards to secure employment and social guarantees for journalists. Lots of people are being paid “authorship fees” or being self-employed while they are de facto working as employed. This means – no vacation, no paid sick-leave, no pension, nothing. No rights. Everybody knows this not ok, but the board members and some representatives just keep going to meetings with MPs and similar, discussing “how we could frame this debate about formulating the questions on this issue blah blah blah”. But there is no result. Two years ago tax agency and state labor inspection confirmed that the praxis with “authorship fees” etc is violation of the law and that they could punish a number of media companies for doing this. One year ago chairman of our organization stated in media – “I think these payments of authorship fees to employees should be forbidden by the state”. What has changed today? Nada. 0%.

And these people will tell me that I do nothing… Well, here is my proposal – announce an official investigation which will be conducted by our own members (make a team, give them a small, sustainable budget) in a number of media companies. Collect all the information on employments, kinds of payments and so on. If companies refuse to participate fully or partly – fine, note that (and publish later), go to the next one. Talk to journalists, collect stories from their view. Collect the data, evaluate. Take out three worst companies and announce a complete ban to those from our organization, ask state authorities to intervene.

Can we do this?

Of course not. I know. But I am still wondering – what do I pay for, when I give 36 EUR a year? For organizing a few conferences each year which majority of us cannot attend because they are held on working days?

Didzis Melbiksis

Multilingual citizen. Europe, Sweden, media, politics.



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