The new International President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) has made monitoring the observance of media rights among the British Commonwealth as one of her top priorities. In a statement she issued soon after being elected to replace Hassan Shahriar, as well as in private conversations with fellow journalists, Rita Payne, who also chairs the CJA London branch, agreed that the association cannot stand by as journalists are persecuted in Commonwealth countries.
Payne beat Chris Cobb, the current Vice President, at an election held Thursday at the end of the five-day conference that started here Sunday. She said she will work towards the rehabilitation of CJA branches around the world and urged journalists in the Commonwealth where branches are yet to be formed, to work hard towards establishing them.
Elaborating on her plans during the next three years, Payne said: “We will need to have a database with email addresses of all our members so that we can communicate directly with our membership when there are significant developments. I would like all our members to send their thoughts on what sort of organization they would like the CJA to be and what we can do collectively to meet our objectives.”
During the elections, Joshua Kyalimpa, the outgoing President of the Uganda Journalists Association was elected International Vice President for Africa, while Drito Alice, who heads the CJA in Uganda as well as Newton Sibanda of Zambia, were elected CJA directors. The full list of the new CJA executive is as follows:
International President: Rita Payne – UK; International Vice Presidents: Chris Cobb – Canada (re-elected); Mahendra Ved – Asia; Joshua Kyalimpa – Africa; Farid Hossain – Bangladesh; Honorary Secretary-Treasurer: Murray Burt – Canada; Directors: Nahas Pasha – UK Bangladesh Chapter; Drito Alice – Uganda; Caroline Jackson – Malaysia Sarawak; Newton Sibanda – Zambia; Fauzia Shaheen – Pakistan; Jayanta Roy Chowdhury – India; Shyamal Dutta – Bangladesh; Will Henley – UK (youth director); Past President Emeritus – Hassan Shahriar (Bangladesh).
Members failed to come to a decision as to where the next conference would be held. Uganda and South Africa were some of the names suggested but no agreement was reached after strong feelings were raised at the prospect of holding the conference in Kampala where many journalists have been publicly beaten up, arrested, and charged for doing their work, as well as other flimsy excuses often geared towards making it difficult for them to carry out their work effectively.
Delegates paid tribute to Brian Cantley who for a long time has served the association as International Director. The new President particularly praised Mr. Cantley for the great work he has done this year in making it possible for this conference to take place. He worked relentlessly to organize the payment and delivery of air tickets to delegates, as well as working on the difficult task of getting visas for delegates from developing countries. Brian at times had to dip into his own pockets to pay for the airfares of some delegates. He is retiring from CJA active service.
Attempts by some members to extend the association’s term limits were effectively rejected by Derek Ingram who is the founder President and the person who initiated the idea to form the CJA. Some members were surprised that the suggestion to extend term limits was mooted by a delegate from Uganda, a country whose citizens are struggling to have their government restore term limits. According to Mr. Ingram, he had from the very beginning suggested that the association’s presidency was only for a two-term limit, so that the presidency could be shared among all the branches of the CJA.
During the voting, Uganda’s Joshua Kyalimpa had nominated Mr. Shahriar for a third term in office. Although Shahriar has been a very effective president and well respected among colleagues, Kyalimpa received angry stares from colleagues when he nominated Hassan to run for a third term, something that would have set a precedent within the CJA. While previous CJA leaders have been automatically re-elected for a second term, Mrs. Payne said that during her leadership she would prefer there was a contest to test her suitability to govern for the second and final term.
A very efficient organizer with enormous contacts, Mrs. Payne will need all her capabilities to reorganize the CJA, especially the need for sponsors to resurrect training programs to commonwealth journalists that the CJA together with the Thomson Foundation used to offer. Ingram, Shahriar, Cobb, and Cantley have all offered to help her build a much stronger and better organized association. For the first time, an office of a Secretary/Treasurer was formed. It will be run by Murray Burt of Canada. The association also needs to be seen to be there for members when they are persecuted by those in power and make those in power account for their deeds.