South Asia Media Solidarity Bulletin: January

Welcome to the monthly e-bulletin of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). The next bulletin will be sent on February 16, 2015, 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 on your campaigns and activities. To contribute, email Ujjwal Acharya at: ifjsouthasia@gmail.com

Please feel free to distribute this bulletin widely among colleagues in the media. This e-bulletin and South Asia related contents are available at the SAMSN Digital Hub: http://samsn.ifj.org 

In this bulletin:

1.    #JeSuisCharlie: Asia-Pacific media unions unite in condemning brutal attack in France

2.    Pakistan looms large in violence which killed 118 journalists and media staff in 2014: IFJ

3.    SAMSN congratulates Sri Lankan colleagues on presidential election

4.    IFJ upcoming work in South Asia in 2015

5.    Journalist severely injured in Afghanistan suicide bombing dies

6.    Union Leadership Training held in western Nepal

7.    Supreme Court upholds conviction and sentence in Nepalese journalist rape case

8.    Bangladesh cracks down on opposition media

9.    Nepal appoints commissioners at National Information Commission

10.  Attacks on media continue in Pakistan as country tops the 2014 Killed List

11.  Free speech under attack from violence and defamation suits in India

12.  Renowned journalist BG Verghese, 89, passes away

13.  221 journalists imprisoned globally, 4 in South Asia: CPJ

14.  Internet freedom in decline globally: Freedom House

15.  Bangladesh: Details of contempt judgment on David Bergman

16.  IFJ Research Study on Gender and Media in the Asia Pacific

1. #JeSuisCharlie: Asia-Pacific media unions unite in condemning brutal attack in France

Media unions and press freedom groups from across the Asia-Pacific region joined the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in a regional show of solidarity and joint condemnation of the horrific attack that took the lives of 10 media workers in France on January 7, the worst journalist assassination since 2009’s Ampatuan Massacre in the Philippines. The killed included Stephane Charbonnier; editor, Jean Cabut; cartoonist, Georges Wolinski; cartoonist, Bernard Verlhac; cartoonist, Philippe Honore; cartoonist, Bernard Maris – economist, Elsa Cayat; columnist, Mustapha Ourrad; copy editor, Michel Renaud; visitor, Ahmed Merabet; police officer and Frank Brinsolaro; police officer.

Around the world, the IFJ’s global network has reacted strongly to the massacre at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, with vigils and public rallies happening across the region. In their messages of support, Asia-Pacific journalists and their trade union condemned the outrageous attack and gave support to their French colleagues.

Read more here; read the powerful messages of support from the South Asian media unions here; and see the photos of rallies and vigils across the region here.

2. Pakistan looms large in violence which killed 118 journalists and media staff in 2014: IFJ

On January 2, the IFJ released the 24th Annual List of Journalists & Media Staffs Killed with  grave statistics, including 118 journalists and media staff killed in work-related targeted or cross fire incidents in 2014. It’s an increase of 13 killings from last year. 17 more died in accidents while on assignments.

According to the list, Asia Pacific had the highest death toll with a total of 39 deaths, 35 of which were work-related targeted killings, making it the most dangerous region for journalists and media staff in the world for the second year running.

Pakistan ranks as the most dangerous country with 14 journalists killed, followed by Syria where 12 lost their lives to violence. Afghanistan and Palestine recorded 9 killings each while eight journalists were killed in Iraq and Ukraine. Read more here and the IFJ 24th Annual List is here (pdf). The IFJ will publish its full Killed List report for 2014 at the end of January.

3. SAMSN congratulates Sri Lankan colleagues on presidential election

SAMSN congratulated its Sri Lankan colleagues for the successful and largely peaceful presidential election held on January 8. The Network also congratulates newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena and newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and ministers.

SAMSN urges the new government to respect freedom of expression, media rights and journalists’ rights; and ensure the safety for journalists in upcoming days. The Network also hopes that with the new government, the restrictions on media, media rights organizations and similar democratic organizations will be annulled; and the killings and disappearances of journalists will be properly investigated.

The IFJ in the wake of election-related violence and possible violations of media freedom issued statements urging the government of Sri Lanka to respect media freedom and safety. On the day of the elections, the IFJ expressed concerns over the election related violence (read the statement here) and on December 23, 2014, the IFJ called for media freedom as the presidential election approached (read the statement here).

4. IFJ upcoming work in South Asia in 2015

In 2015, the IFJ Asia-Pacific office will continue to roll-out the program of the South Asia Media Freedom for Democracy project, supported by UNDEF. With media rights training now completed, the important next stage of the project will be in the development and delivery of specialised training in Digital Campaign Skills as well as the development of a Campaign Guide for South Asia. As part of the project, the SAMSN Digital Hub is now live.

Digital advocacy capacity, knowledge and skill have been identified as a major need by our affiliates in the region and training is tentatively slated in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The training will cover how journalists can use social media and other digital methods to campaign for media rights in unique and innovative ways. The trainings will inform the development of the campaign guide for the region and each country will be supported in each implementing an in-country digital campaign.

Following on from SAMSN, a number of regional digital campaigns were agreed upon – Impunity, Gender and Internet Security. The gender campaign is slated for early 2015, leading up to International Women’s Day in March.

Also slated for the coming year is the creation of a one-off Freedom of Expression in the Digital Space report.

Of course, the LO-TCO Stronger Unions for Stronger Media and Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s South Asia Media Freedom and Solidarity projects will also continue to fund ongoing trade union and media development project work in 2015, the latter specialising in gender programs. Please contact the IFJ AP office to discuss your objectives and work for 2015.

In the coming month, we will also begin liaising with you on how the Media Rights Monitoring networks developed in 2014 are bringing together specialised reports from the region to go into next year’s South Asia Press Freedom Report.

5. Journalist severely injured in Afghanistan suicide bombing dies

Zubair Hatami, a journalist and cameraman for local Mitra TV in Kabul, died on December 20 after 10 days in a coma. He was severely wounded after a teenage suicide bomber detonated his explosives during a theatre show at Estiqlal High School on December 11. One other, a German civilian, was also killed and nearly 20 others were injured in the attack.

Hatami’s funeral was held on Sunday, December 21, attended by his colleagues, journalists and family members. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Office Abdullah Abdullah also extended their deepest sympathies on Hatami’s death. Read more.

6. Union Leadership Training held in western Nepal

The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) organized Union Leadership training in Nepalgunj, west Nepal on December 2, 2014 with support from the IFJ Asia Pacific under the LO-TCO project.

Dr Mahendra Bista, the FNJ Chair, was the resource person for the training that was attended by the district level FNJ leadership representing districts in west Nepal. The training focused on strengthening union, identifying issues and activists and organizing around them along with important communication and negotiating skills for the leadership

7. Supreme Court upholds conviction and sentence in Nepalese journalist rape case

The Supreme Court of Nepal on December 18, 2014 upheld the decision to imprison a perpetrator in the rape of a female journalist after seven years of the incident.

The Court sentenced Yadav Ghimire, a section officer of state-owned Nepal Telecom, to five years in prison and ordered him to pay a Rs. 150,000 (approximately US$ 1,500) fine to compensate the victim in its verdict on 2008 rape case.

Ghimire lured the 22-year-old female journalist of Syanja district, western Nepal to a hotel room in Pokhara in the pretext of giving her a better job and raped her on January 1, 2008. Although a district court found him guilty and sentenced him to jail for six years in 2009, the decision was reversed by an appellate court.

Ghimire remained behind bars for less than a year before he was acquitted in 2010. The journalist took the case to the Supreme Court. The IFJ statement is here and the story of the female journalist is here.

8. Bangladesh cracks down on opposition media

The Bangladesh government in an attempt to suppress the opposition political protests targeted media perceived to be sympathetic to the opposition. Abdus Salam, chairman of Ekushey TV (ETV), was arrested and detained on January 7, and charged with sedition for broadcasting a speech by opposition leader.

His arrest came a day after ETV’s broadcast of an anti-government speech by Tarique Rahman. Shortly after the speech was broadcast, the government announced a ban on any further public dissemination, by any medium, of any political speeches by Rahman, without citing any reason. The Supreme Court also banned reporting of his speeches by local media. The order was protested by some factions of journalists unions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has cleared Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman and joint editor Mizanur Rahman Khan of contempt of court charges for publishing an article on January 5. The eight-member bench of the Appellate Division of the SC, headed by Chief Justice M Muzammel Hossain, passed the order after the journalists offered unconditional apology. More here.

9. Nepal appoints commissioners at National Information Commission

The government of Nepal has appointed former Secretary Krishna Hari Banskota as the Chief Information Commissioner and journalists Yasoda Timsina and Kiran Pokharel as information commissioners at the National Information Commission.

Ms. Timsina is the former vice president of Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and Mr. Pokharel is former president of Nepal Press Union (NPU). Both FNJ and NPU are IFJ affiliates. More here.

10. Attacks on media continue in Pakistan as country tops the 2014 Killed List

2014 was a challenging year for journalists in Pakistan. The country recorded the highest number of journalist deaths across the world, totally 14, while journalists were also faced with threats and attacks just for doing their job.

In December 2014, the IFJ wrote to Mr Imran Khan, the leader of one of Pakistan’s opposition parties, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), calling for end to the attacks against the media during PTI demonstrations. In a letter to the politician, the IFJ outlined serious concerns for the safety and welfare of journalists. Read more here.

The letter was sent to Mr Khan following a number of incidents against journalists covering PTI rallies, which included a number of attacks against female journalists. In one instance, senior female journalist, Sana Mirza was pelted with a water bottle during a live broadcast. Read more here.

Attacks continued in December when a NewsOne Television reporter, Zeeshan Shamsi and his wife were attacked by indiscriminate firing on December 22, 2014 as they travelled from Sialkot to Islamabad. Shamsi was not harmed in the attack but his wife suffered to bullet wounds to her chest. Read more here.

On January 5, the Supreme Court of Pakistan indicted ARY TV channel’s Chief Executive Salman Iqbal and anchor Mubashir Lucman in a contempt of a court case for maligning the judiciary during a program without proof. The case is another blow for press freedom in the country, as the laid charges against the pair. Read more here and here.

11. Free speech under attack from violence and defamation suits in India

2014 saw a sharp rise in the number of journalists facing defamation suits and notices in India. This form of intimidation has emerged as a new tool to silence the media, who continue to face numerous physical attacks. The number of physical attacks for 2014 stands at 85, with the number of cases alleging defamation stands at 21.    

A report on free speech in India by The Hoot, the media watch website, finds little to cheer. Read the full report here.

12. Renowned journalist BG Verghese, 89, passes away

The former Editor of the Hindustan Times and The Indian Express Boobli George Verghese died due to prolonged illness in Gurgaon, New Delhi on December 31, 2014. Verghese had suffered a back injury in early 2014 and contracted dengue fever in November.

Verghese was a Magsaysay Award winner in 1975 and Information Adviser to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Here was also the founder member of the IFJ affiliate – the National Union of Journalists (India). More here, here and here.

13. 221 journalists imprisoned globally, 4 in South Asia: CPJ

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) identified 221 journalists in jail around the world in 2014, an increase of 10 from 2013. The tally marks the second-highest number of journalists in jail since CPJ began taking an annual census of imprisoned journalists in 1990, and highlights a resurgence of authoritarian governments in countries such as China, Ethiopia, Burma, and Egypt.

According to the CPJ report, four journalists are in jail in South Asia – 3 in Bangladesh and 1 in India. Those in jail in Bangladesh are Mahmudur Rahman (Amar Desh), Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury (Weekly Blitz) and Rabiullah Robi (Daily Inqilab); and the journalist in Indian jail is Jaikhlong Brahma (News Live TV). Find the complete database here.

14. Internet freedom in decline globally: Freedom House

Freedom on the Net 2014 – is the fifth annual comprehensive study of internet freedom around the globe by Freedom House. The study covers developments in 65 countries including 4 from South Asia (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) that occurred between May 2013 and May 2014. The 2014 report found that internet freedom is in decline around the world for the fourth consecutive year, with 36 out of 65 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory during the coverage period.

The report states that internet in Pakistan is not free; and internet in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are only partially free. Find the complete report here.

15. Bangladesh: Details of contempt judgment on David Bergman

In the December SAMSN bulletin, we reported that on December 2, a special war crimes court, the International Crimes Tribunal, ruled that a blog and two other articles written by British journalist living in Dhaka, David Bergman, 49, ‘hurt the feelings of the nation’ and sentenced him to a week’s imprisonment or to pay a fine of USD65.

Bergman has written a blog post detailing all information of the case, that includes linked to his blog posts and articles questioned, initial and full judgment of the court and his comments. Read his blog post here.

16. IFJ Research Study on Gender and Media in the Asia Pacific

Since July 2014, the IFJ has been conducting a research study on gender and media in the Asia Pacific region. The project, supported by UNESCO and UNWomen, which included a survey component, interviews and case studies has been conducted in seven focus countries; India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vanuatu. The study will investigate the situation of women at work in the media, the challenges, obstacles and needs; the number of women in senior and decision making positions and the issues that affect this representation; the role that unions, associations and women’s networks could and do play and expectations of their actions; and best practice case studies of campaigns, media workplaces and coverage and representation of women.

The final report which will include core recommendations will go forward for presentation at the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in March 2015.

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SAMSN is a group of journalists’ trade unions, press freedom organizations and journalists in South Asia that work together to support freedom of expression and association in the region.

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

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, emailifjsouthasia@gmail.com