Federation of Journalists, in collaboration with partners and affiliates released
situation reports on journalists’ rights and the state of media freedom in
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The information presented in the reports is the
result of extensive consultations between the IFJ and its partners, field
visits and interviews by IFJ personnel in the two countries.
The reports highlight
the current priority areas for campaign and advocacy work in the two countries
and identify focus areas for future international solidarity actions.
In Bangladesh, the
deeply polarised nature of national politics continues to create fissures
within the media, with owners, who are often compelled to take sides, pressuring
professional staff. Political contention is likely to mount as the country
approaches national Parliamentary elections in 2013. Constitutional amendments
enacted by the current government in 2011, ostensibly to imbed what it portrays
as the values of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle, have led to serious discord,
and opposition protests have been mounting, particularly against a clause which
does away with the system of holding national elections under neutral,
After several false
starts, the process of bringing to account individuals accused of crimes and
atrocities during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of liberation began in 2011. But the
pressures and political sensitivities associated with the proceedings of the
International Crimes Tribunal – a body created by Bangladesh national law –
have not abated despite broad consensus on the need for accountability. Media
reporting on the proceedings of the tribunal has often come under the scrutiny
of the tribunal, which has twice held particular newspapers and journalists
guilty of contempt.
There have been
multiple cases where particular newspapers have been charged under the
defamation law. The allocation of broadcast spectrum for television channels is
often seen to be a source of exerting control and a form of censorship.
Safety issues were
highlighted by the brutal twin murder of a journalist couple in the capital
city Dhaka, in February, and in a number of retaliatory attacks by political
actors, for reporting deemed as critical.
journalists began a campaign in February 2012 to secure a new wage accord for
themselves. Under national law, statutory bodies are required to be created
every few years to ensure that journalists’ wages and working conditions are
appropriate to their requirements of sustaining a high level of professional
motivation and commitment. These efforts were rewarded in June 2012, when a
wage board comprising representatives of the journalists’ unions, the media
industry and government was constituted under the chairmanship of a former
Supreme Court judge.
changes in recent times have enabled a growth of community radio in Bangladesh,
though licensing processes are seen as excessively complicated. A right to
information bill enacted in 2009 promises greater accountability and
transparency in governance, though it is seen to grant too many exceptions and
the number of those who have been motivated to use it, is still very modest.
IFJ partners in Sri
Lanka have been campaigning for media freedom to be recognised as an essential
part of the process of national reconciliation, following the end of the
country’s quarter-century long civil war in 2009. Their efforts are yet to be
recognised, since few reforms have been implemented in the media sector and the
recommendations of a high-level commission on national reconciliation remain
largely on paper.
Media reporting on
the process of resettlement and rehabilitation in the country’s Northern Province,
which suffered the worst ravages of the civil war, has often been impeded by
security personnel who continue to be deployed there. And far from assuring accountability
for the number of attacks and killings of journalists during the war, the
pattern of violence has persisted in the years following.
Journalists and human
rights defenders are often attacked by official spokespeople on government-controlled
media channels, contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance for even
legitimate criticism of the government. Websites that carry news and current
affairs content on Sri Lanka have been subject to arbitrary rules of
registration and in some cases, to police raids and seizure of equipment.
vulnerable media houses have been subject to further pressures as increased
costs passed on from banks and financial institutions threatens their
sustainability. In addition, change of ownership has often resulted in rapid
changes in editorial policies and personnel.
The revival of the
Press Council of Sri Lanka is seen to embody a very real coercive intent on the
part of the government, since the 1973 law under which the body is constituted
conceives of a number of possible sanctions against the media, including the
power to prosecute under various provisions of criminal law. The Sri Lanka
Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body set up by the media
industry, has been seeking to establish its credentials as an institution that
is fully equipped to deal with current challenges.
The situation reports
on Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were prepared with the financial support of UNESCO,
under the International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC).
The report on Bangladesh is available in English and Bangla and the report on
Sri Lanka, in English, Sinhala and Tamil.
The reports can be
further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0950
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