The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on African journalists to beware the dangers of prejudice and discrimination facing gay people after a report that a journalists' group in Cameroon has put at risk colleagues by making public accusations of homosexuality in a country where the practice is forbidden by law.
The IFJ says that the distribution by the Syndicat des Journalistes Employés du Cameroun (SJEC) of a controversial report in the biweekly Aurore Plus, which accuses a rival union leader of homosexuality, was a provocative and unacceptable action.
“In parts of Africa there is a level of intolerance of homosexuality which is unacceptable and this sort of action is aimed at encouraging further prejudice,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
“It has no place in the trade union movement and should be avoided.”
The IFJ says the message appears to be using intolerance as a weapon in inter-union rivalry.
The IFJ says the SJEC should clarify its position over the message sent in December to a network of regional and international journalists’ groups.
The message reproduced an article that accused a leader of the Syndicat National des Journalistes du Cameroun of homosexuality, knowing that gay activities are widely condemned in Cameroon and punished by the criminal law.
The IFJ says that the article – which is unsigned – was designed to encourage discrimination and to reflect negatively on the SNJC and its leaders.
“On a continent where there is much to be done to build respect and equal rights for everyone in society, it is vital that journalists and their organisations do not engage in actions which can discriminate against any group, whether it is on the basis of their race, religion, gender – or sexuality,” said Mr.White.
The IFJ last month launched a major new campaign – the Ethical Journalism Initiative – which has at its heart the need for journalism to nourish diversity and respect for minorities.
“This incident illustrates only too well that we have much work to do in journalism and the union movement against all forms of discrimination,” added Mr. White.
The IFJ plans to encourage more debate and actions within the journalism community to guard against intolerance.
“We have seen how prejudice such as that expressed by President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe can quickly become the basis for hatred and acts of violence against the gay community,” said Mr. White.
“We must do everything we can to avoid that, which is why the union in this case must clearly repudiate the action of circulating intolerant material about a colleague.”