IFJ Backs South Asia Declaration on Media Freedom

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and partner organisations from the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) joined a declaration in Kathmandu, Nepal, condemning the rapid deterioration in conditions for free media in South Asia.


The declaration, which was adopted at a two-day meeting of media practitioners from South Asia hosted by UNESCO, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, affirmed that free media institutions are an essential part of efforts in all South Asian countries to build a truly democratic and representative political order.


The delegates deplored “the evident deterioration in the media freedom situation” in South Asia and noted that the “most challenging issues for journalists are violence directed by state and non-state actors engaged in war, and bureaucratic and legislative efforts to silence dissent”.


The meeting noted that the hazards facing free and independent media in the region have been epitomised in the murders this year of Lasantha Wickrematunge in Sri Lanka, Uma Singh in Nepal and Musa Khankhel in Pakistan.


In India, “there have been four murders, three arrests of editors or publishers, and one case of a news organisation being charged with sedition” since World Press Freedom Day in 2008.


The gathering observed that in Sri Lanka, “J.S. Tissainayagam, arrested in March 2008 and charged with terrorism six months later, continues to face trial for articles written in 2006 that were critical of the military strategy of the Government in its combat operations against separatist guerrillas in the east of the country”.


The murder in January of Wickrematunge, who was posthumously honoured with UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Award for 2009, was followed by the kidnap-style arrest of N. Vithyatharan, another Tamil editor in Sri Lanka, and his detention without charge for two months. Vithyatharan was discharged unconditionally on April 24. However, throughout his detention senior government officials repeatedly branded him an “accessory in terrorism”.


The South Asian media freedom community demanded that state authorities in all countries “explicitly denounce these acts of lawlessness against the media and institute appropriate sanctions against those responsible”.


The meeting’s delegates resolved that all media freedom bodies in the region will “remain united in cross-border solidarity, in shared pursuit of an environment of respect for press freedom”. They pledged that all bodies will work together as “a cohesive network to support each other in (a) common aspiration to improve and assert press freedom and the rights of journalists in the South Asia region”.


The deterioration in the media environment is also emphasised inUnder Fire: Press Freedom in South Asia 2008-2009, produced by the IFJ for SAMSN and released at the Nepal meeting.


For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919


The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries