South Asia Media Solidarity Network Bulletin

Welcome to the e-bulletin of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). The next bulletin will be sent on August 15, 2014, and your inputs are most welcome. We encourage contributions to let others know what you are doing; to seek solidarity and support from other SAMSN members; and to find out what others are doing in the region.

To contribute, email: ifj@ifj-asia.org

SAMSN is a group of journalists’ trade unions, press freedom organizations and journalists in South Asia that have agreed to work together to support freedom of expression and association in the region. SAMSN was formed at a meeting of these groups in Kathmandu, Nepal, in September 2004. The group agreed to stand in solidarity and work together for media reform, for an independent pluralist media and to build public respect for the work of journalists in the region.

For further information on SAMSN, visit: www.ifj-asia.org/page/samsn.html

Please feel free to distribute this bulletin widely among colleagues in the media.

In this bulletin:

1.  Annual SAMSN Meeting discusses issues, challenges & campaigns on media freedom in South Asia

2.    Gender Networking Conference: Gender to be key focus in South Asia

3.    Radio journalist shot dead in Afghanistan

4.    Journalist displaced after threats in Nepal

5.    Afghanistan court sentences Pakistani journalists four years in prison

6.    Pakistan appoints Chairman of Wage Board

7.    More than 30 journalists displaced from tribal area in Pakistan

8.    IFJ Holds Union Leadership Training in Kathmandu, Nepal

9.    Nepal court sentences life imprisonment to three in case of journalist’s killing

10.  Bangladesh journalist’s contempt of court hearing adjourned

11.  Sri Lanka muzzles NGOs and bans media-related activities

12.  Journalist escapes abduction attempt in Bangladesh

13.  45 journalists detained for seven hours in Nepal

14.  Student leader threatens to kill Bangladeshi journalist

15.  Eight journalists assaulted in Bangladesh

16.  The challenges of a female reporter in Pakistan (blog) 

1. Annual SAMSN Meeting scheduled for July in Kathmandu

Journalists, human rights activists and union leaders representing press freedom organisations and journalists unions across the South Asian region met at Kathmandu from July 18 to 20, 2014 for the 13th annual meeting of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). More than forty journalists, human rights activists and union leaders from seven countries of South Asia participated in the meeting.

The SAMSN, together with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), held this important meeting that discussed regional issues and challenges to media freedom and solidarity, and planned joint strategies for future advocacy and campaigns. The meeting focused on impunity and strategies to combat it, wage issues and digital campaigning possibilities for advocacy.

During the meeting, participants received a special two-day training in secure communications under the South Asia Media for Democracy project, supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund.

Note: The meeting passed a 13-point resolution on the pressing issues of the region. Find the resolutions of the SAMSN annual meeting at the end of this bulletin.

2. Gender Networking Conference: Gender to be key focus in South Asia

The IFJ and the SAMSN hosted the second South Asia Gender Networking Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, on July 17. The one-day meeting was aimed at moving forward from identifying the issues to bringing “action” for women in media in South Asia.

The meeting formulated a plan for action for the region – including the draft of a regional gender campaign for the SAMSN network and the launch of a South Asia regional research project, supported by UNESCO.

A special session on gender at the SAMSN meeting led to the endorsement of gender campaign as one of the key focus areas in the region.

Participants from South Asia presented case studies and discussed strategies that would help bring meaningful change to women’s representation and experience working in the media and in unions. The conference was part of IFJ’s continued work to support women in journalism in South Asia and overcome gender issues. The conference was a part of the IFJ project on gender quality, safety and media rights supported by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

3. Radio journalist shot dead in Afghanistan

Khalid Aga Yaqoobi, a 27-year-old radio journalist working for a private radio station Lahza in Mazar-e-Sharif city, was shot dead in northern Balkh province of Afghanistan on July 12. The Afghanistan Journalists Center said unknown gunmen who fled the scene after the attack shot Yaqoobi dead on the head in front of his kids. The local officials have not commented regarding the incident so far. Yaqoobi is survived by his wife and two kids ageing 4 and 2. He was the producer and presenter of a social program of the radio since 2010. Police have begun the investigation to identify who were behind the killing. More here.

4. Journalist displaced after threats in Nepal

Journalist Ramesh Rawal from Kalikot district of remote Karnali, mid-west Nepal was forced to leave his home districts two weeks ago. Rawal said that he was forced to move out of his home district after receiving continuous threats from various officials regarding news he reported for Karobar economic daily in Kathmandu and local daily Hamro Karnali Khabar. The displaced journalist, who moved to remote district from capital Kathmandu earlier this year, believes that he became subject of threats for writing news on corruption by government agencies. More here.

5. Afghanistan court sentences Pakistani journalists four years in prison

A court in Afghanistan sentenced Faizullah Khan, a Pakistani TV journalist, to four years in prison on charges of entering its territory without required documents on July 13. Afghan authorities in eastern Nangarhar province detained Faizullah, a reporter for Karachi-based ARY News, in April, 2014 while he was on assignment to interview Taliban leaders. Faizullah was also accused of spying; however, the bench dropped espionage charges. More here.

6. Pakistan appoints Chairman of Wage Board

Pakistan announced appointments in two key positions on July 9. The Federal Government appointed Muhammad Raza Khan as the chairman of 8th Wage Board on the terms and conditions admissible to a judge of a high court. The government also appointed retired Justice Rauf Sheikh has Chairman of the Implementation Tribunal for Newspapers Employees (ITNE).

The post was lying vacant for the last several months and cases of journalists and newspaper industry were pending as a result.

7. More than 30 journalists displaced from tribal area in Pakistan

More than 30 journalists were displaced from their homes in the federally administered tribal areas of North Waziristan of Pakistan after the launch of the military operations against the militants.

The journalists – including 32 registered members of North Waziristan chapter of Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) – left the areas along the border with Afghanistan after authorities “advised” them to leave as their security “is not guaranteed” following the operation announced by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the armed forces on June 15.

The  Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province government on July 8 announced Rs 50,000 grant for every displaced journalist. The announcement was made during a meeting between Governor Sardar Mahtab Ahmed Khan and members of North Waziristan Union of Journalists. More here.

8. IFJ holds Union Leadership and Media Rights Monitoring and Advocacy Training in Kathmandu, Nepal

The IFJ organized the LO-TCO Union Leadership Training in Kathmandu, Nepal on Monday, July 14. IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park delivered the daylong training to 29 newly elected members of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ).

The training focused on strengthening union, identifying issues and activists and organizing around them along with important communication and negotiating skills for the leadership. FNJ President Dr Mahendra Bista thanked the IFJ for organizing the training and hoped that the knowledge learnt would be helpful to them.

The IFJ also organized a two-day media rights monitoring and advocacy training to the FNJ leadership and staffs of the FNJ Media Rights Monitoring Unit on July 15 and 16 under the South Asia Media for Democracy Project supported by UNDEF. IFJ AP Director Jacqueline Park, Deputy Director Jane Worthington and South Asia Coordinator Ujjwal Acharya delivered the training that focused on aspects of media rights monitoring, documentation, publication and campaigns for media rights.

9. Nepal court sentences life imprisonment to three in case of journalist’s killing

The Appellate Court in Nepal on July 10 handed over life imprisonment to three and six months in prison to one in connection with the murder of journalist Yadav Poudel. The court sentenced Yubaraj Giri, Somnath Dhakal and Manju Dhakal life imprisonment and Madan Rai six months in jail for their involvement in 2012 murder of Poudel.

Poudel was pushed off the roof of the hotel owned by the Dhakal couple on April 4, 2012. Poudel was in talks with Giri to begin publication of a local daily newspaper when the incident happened. Police arrested 17 people in connection with the murder; 13 of them were found innocent and freed. The Jhapa District Court sentenced the remaining four on February 2013, which was upheld by the Appellate Court. More here.

10. Bangladesh journalist’s contempt of court hearing adjourned

On July 8, the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh adjourned the hearing of the contempt of court case against journalist David Bergman to August 21. Bergman is facing the case for his writings on his blog two to three years earlier. The court had asked for his written explanation, to which the court expressed dissatisfaction and set the date for oral hearing. The hearing was adjourned after a plaintiff lawyer filed for adjournment due to illness. More on his blog.

11. Sri Lanka muzzles NGOs and bans media-related activities

The Sri Lankan government banned civil society non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from having any dealings with the media, including organising and conducting legitimate and necessary media-training activities.

On July 7 2014, the National Secretariat for NGOs, under the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, issued a circular to all NGOs preventing them from “conducting press conferences, workshops, journalism training and dissemination of press releases”. The authority claimed such activities are beyond the mandate of NGOs. To date in 2014, three training workshops for Tamil journalists have had to be abandoned due to non-responsiveness of the state. More here.

12. Journalist escapes abduction attempt in Bangladesh

Journalist Shahed Chowdhury escaped an abduction attempt in Dhaka on July 6, 2014. Chowdhury, editor of the Bengali daily Samakal and president of Dhaka Reporters’ Unity (DRU), was traveling by public bus to attend a dinner hosted by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Two unidentified youths in a white car forced the bus to stop and tried to drag Chowdury out and put him in their car. Passersby stepped forward to help him, and the attackers quickly left the scene. The police is investigating the case. More here.

13. 45 journalists detained for seven hours in Nepal

Nepal Police detained 45 journalists for seven hours in Kathmandu, Nepal on July 1, 2014. Police arrested the journalists from the premises of the Ministry of Finance where they were staging a peaceful sit-in to demand the government pay for public welfare advertisements. The government, through the Department of Information, submits public welfare advertisements to media outlets under a quota system. The journalists were eventually released after seven hours of detention. More here.

14. Student leader threatens to kill Bangladeshi journalist

Amzad Hossain Shimul, a staff reporter at the Daily Amader Shomoy at Rajshahi, western Bangladesh, was allegedly threatened by Tawhid Al Hossain, also known as Tuhin, the general secretary of the Bangladesh Chhatra League of Rajshahi University June 28, 2014. According to reports, the student leader was enraged and allegedly threatened to kill Shimul after the journalist didn’t recognise him when he made a phone call. More here.

15. Eight journalists assaulted in Bangladesh

Eight journalists were assaulted during a football match in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Monday night, July 14. The journalists were allegedly assaulted by a group of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) activists of Dhaka University during a football match at the campus.

The journalists allegedly approached the students about joining in a game to which the students replied that they were leaving the ground in 10 minutes. The BCL students, belonging to Surya Sen Hall, left the ground but returned a short time later, armed with machetes and iron rods and began attacking the journalists, according to one of the injured journalists. More here.

16. The challenges of a female reporter in Pakistan (blog)

This month’s SAMSN blog is by Nadia Sabohi, an investigative reporter for Geo TV news in Pakistan, and their correspondent in Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. She writes about challenges of female journalists in the country:

“There was no space on the floor without blood to take a step. I was lined up to broadcast live by my TV channel and the beeps started. I was talking with the wounded, the families of victims, officials and community representatives, all live from the blast scene. This live transmission at the scene continued for almost six hours. It was difficult for me, with the victims’ families so upset as I walked around on the blood of their loved ones. Some became very rude and challenged me angrily…”

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See the full resolutions of the 2014 SAMSN meeting below:South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) 2014 Resolutions

Journalists, human rights activists and union leaders representing press freedom organisations and journalists unions across the South Asian region met in Kathmandu from July 18 to 20, 2014 for the 13th annual meeting of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). The aim of the meeting was to discuss regional issues and challenges to media freedom and solidarity and plan joint strategies.

After three days of discussions, the group unanimously passed the following resolutions:

1.    The SAMSN takes serious note of the widespread culture of impunity and its deleterious impact on journalists and media workers. The SAMSN reaffirms its commitment to end the environment of impunity that dominates the South Asia region and resolves to work closely with national and international organizations to bring an end to impunity, improve journalists’ safety, media freedom and diversity for media practitioners and audiences.

2.    SAMSN condemns the killing of over 100 journalists in the line of duty in Pakistan in the last decade, 57 murders since 1992 in India, more than three dozen murders since 2001 in Nepal, and more than three dozen murders since 2006 in Sri Lanka. SAMSN notes that only a handful of cases have resulted in perpetrators being prosecuted and even less in convictions. SAMSN demands these killings be investigated as the highest priority and that their perpetrators are identified and prosecuted. The SAMSN also calls for a constitution of a judicial commission or appointment of special prosecutor to pursue the investigation and prosecution in these cases in Pakistan, India and Nepal by their respective governments.

3.    The SAMSN notes that the continuous assaults, threats, harassments, unwarranted questioning, and restrictions on access and interference by the military with journalistic functions of practitioners in the North and the East (the former war zones) in Sri Lanka continues to prevent media institutions and media personnel from accessing and reporting on those regions. The harassment and intimidation of journalists must stop forthwith and the SAMSN calls on the government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the rights of the media be respected.

4.    The SAMSN condemns the special directive issued by the NGO Secretariat, functioning under Defense Ministry of Sri Lanka that seeks to control and curb activities of the non-governmental (NGO) sector, working in an already repressive political climate, to support media freedom in Sri Lanka through capacity building. The directive bans 1,416 NGOs from issuing media statements, holding media briefings and conducting trainings for journalists. The SAMSN also resolves that a draft Right to Information bill should be presented to the Sri Lankan parliament by the government after multi-stakeholder consultations.

5.    With many journalists, including a Pakistani journalist, in prison or detained in Afghanistan, the SAMSN calls upon the Afghan government to respect the media and the free flow of information, and highlights the right of journalists to collect and report news without threat of incarceration or other forms of reprisals. The detained journalists should be released immediately and given access to fair trials meeting international standards, including legal representation.

6.    The SAMSN notes the growing coercive pressure on media from Pakistan authorities which has resulted in the arbitrary banning of channels, heavy fines resulting in economic hardships on journalists, the shutting down of media outlets and pressuring the cable TV distribution networks from denying viewers access to some TV channels. The SAMSN will continue to campaign and calls on the government of Pakistan to support freedom of expression, not restrict it.

7.    The SAMSN has voiced its opposition to the use of laws and regulations devised primarily for regulating non-media sectors, such as ICT Law (Bangladesh), Pakistan Protection Act, proposed Cyber Crime Law (Pakistan), Information Technology Act (India) and Electronic Transaction Act (Nepal), to harass journalists and citizens for their opinions on the Internet. The digital space is a vital platform for freedom of expression and the media and governments should facilitate responsible use and access.

8.    The SAMSN has declared that the Contempt of Court Bill currently under registration by Nepal government in the Parliament restricts journalists’ rights and freedom, and demands the immediate withdrawal of the Bill for revision through wider consultations with human rights organisations and journalists.

9.    The SAMSN expresses its shock and condemnation at the illegal termination of veteran trade union activist and secretary of Indian Journalists Union (IJU) Geetartha Pathak from the Asam Bani on June 19, 2014. Pathak was working for 27 years in the newspaper and was the Assistant Editor when his services were illegally terminated. Despite responding to several “show cause” notices, his services were summarily terminated without any inquiry or any other due process of law. The SAMSN expresses solidarity with Pathak and demands that he be reinstated immediately.

10.  The SAMSN acknowledges the challenges faced by women journalists in South Asia and resolves to give gender issues priority action in the coming year in SAMSN campaigns. In particular, the safety and security of women at the workplace must be assured as well as proactive measures be taken to provide conditions conducive for their recruitment, training, protection of maternity benefits, career advancement and promotion to responsible positions.

11.  The SAMSN declares that digital security and secure communications for media practitioners and media support groups are now priority areas. SAMSN members will begin formulating national action plans on implementing secure communication initiatives within their organisations.

12.  The SAMSN is seriously concerned on the growing concentration of media ownership in the region, and increasing corporate and state control and influence on media contents. It urges the media owners to re-evaluate the practices in their media under the light of established principles of journalism and social responsibility model; and demands governments to ensure increased participation of journalist unions in policymaking process and regulatory bodies.

13.  The SAMSN commits itself to continue to monitor media rights violations and progress in investigation and prosecutions for these and advocate on journalist rights in South Asia.

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If you have information on a press freedom violation or matters relating to media freedom and journalists’ rights in South Asia, contact staff at IFJ Asia-Pacific so that action can be taken. To contribute to this bulletin, email ifj@ifj-asia.org