South Asia Media Solidarity Bulletin: July

Welcome to the monthly e-bulletin of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). The next bulletin will be sent on August 15, 2016, and your inputs are most welcome.

We encourage contributions to let others know your activities; to seek solidarity and support from 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: https://samsn.ifj.org  

In this bulletin:

1.       RTI law passed in Sri Lanka

2.       Press freedom under attack in Sri Lanka

3.       Journalists’ new minimum wage implemented in Nepal

4.       SAMSN Blogs

a.       Right to Information in Sri Lanka, by Sanjana Hattotuwa

b.      It took 22 years, and journey continues, by Nalaka Gunawardene

5.       The Silent Crime: Sexual Harassment and Online Gender-based Violence Hinders Progress in Sri Lanka (Internews)

6.       Closure of news outlets signals further erosion of media freedom in the Maldives (CPJ)

7.       Sri Lanka to set up an Independent Commission for media sector (Colombo Page)

8.       State to appeal ‘unlawful’ work ban on ex-Haveeru staff (Maldives Independent)

9.       Bangladesh Says It Now Knows Who’s Killing the Bloggers – (New York Times)

10.   ‘The IPC gets you where the story takes you’

1. RTI law passed in Sri Lanka

On Friday, June 24, Sri Lanka’s parliament passed the Right to Information (RTI) bill, after the second reading of the bill which started on June 23. Sri Lanka became the 108th country in the world to enact the RTI legislation. The bill was first introduced to the Parliament by the Minister of Parliamentary Reform and Mass Media, Gayantha Karunathilaka, in March 24, 2016.

The legislation includes provisions on the public’s right to know, assures access to information from government, public and local entities as well as information held by organizations who receive significant funding from the government.  The implementation of the Act will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Mass Media, which includes establishing a Right to Information Commission. The President will appoint the five officers to the RTI Commission, with several seats designated as being reserved for members of civil society and media representatives. The Act urges each public authority and body to appoint an information officer to meet requests for information.

IFJ affiliates, FMM and SLWJA, have long campaigned for the introduction of RTI legislation and had been partners in drafting the first Freedom of Information Bill in 2003/4. The earlier draft was approved by the Cabinet but was not enacted due to dissolution of Parliament. It was later introduced as a Private Member’s Motion by Member of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya in 2010 but the motion to debate the Bill itself was defeated. More here. The SAMSN Digital Hub has two special blogs on this: read the first by Sanjana Hottotuwa here and second by Nalaka Gunawardene here.

2. Press freedom under attack in Sri Lanka

Deputy inspector general (DIG) Ranjith Perera, the head of the Police Department’s commando arm, publicly threatened to punish journalists for not giving enough media coverage to his efforts to crack down on narcotics being smuggled into the island on June 17. His outburst was captured on reporters’ audio tapes in a news conference organized by the STF in Colombo. Perera continued by warning journalists that he knew how to control the media and would do so by punishing journalists the same way his outfit had “controlled and suppressed the underworld.” He identified several journalists by name and accused them of not giving him enough publicity and suggested that they could face dire consequences. 

Later, Police Senior Superintendent Ajith Rohana apologized to the media on behalf of the Inspector General of Police and said that an inquiry against DIG Perera would be held. More here.

In a separate incident, Daya Neththasinghe, an environment journalist and the features editor of the Sathhanda newspaper, was assaulted by supporters of politician Piyasena Gamage during a local discussion about the environmental impact of a power plant at a temple in Neluwa, Galle on July 12. The journalist, who was invited by the local authority to express his views, was attacked as soon as he focused on the negative impacts of the mini hydro power plant approved in 2012. The locals intervened to stop the assault and took Neththasinghe to the Neluwa Hospital. More here.

3. New minimum wage for journalists implemented in Nepal

 

The Government of Nepal has published the new minimum wage of journalists on the official gazette making it effective from July 16. The Minimum Wage Fixation Committee recommended the new wage nearly a year back and on May 5 this year, the Council of Ministers has approved the recommendation. According to new wage scale, the minimum wage of journalists is fixed at Rs 19,500 (approximately USD 200 per month) and media staffs at Rs 14,400 (approximately USD 150). More here.

4. SAMSN Blogs

a. Right to Information in Sri Lanka, by Sanjana Hattotuwa

RTI is progressive because it places the onus on public institutions to respond to queries by the public, opening them up to a degree of legal scrutiny hitherto unprecedented. The law is disruptive precisely because of this. Decades of a culture of secrecy, of hoarding information, of not releasing information in the public interest is now turned on its head. Public institutions will have to proactively disclose information to the public, and also disclose when requested by the public. To do this, information officers will be appointed – and they will face the gargantuan task of dealing with requests from the public for information there may not even be official records around. Read more.

b. It took 22 years, and the journey continues, by Nalaka Gunawardene

Sri Lanka’s Parliament debated the Right to Information (RTI) bill for two days (23 – 24 June 2016) before adopting it into law. No member opposed it, although some amendments were done during the debate. If that sounds like an easy passage, it was preceded by over two decades of advocacy with various false starts and setbacks. A large number of Lankans and a few supportive foreigners share the credit for Sri Lanka becoming the 108th country in the world to have its own RTI law. How we reached this point is a case study of campaigning for policy change and law reform in a developing country with an imperfect democracy.  Read more.

5. The Silent Crime: Sexual Harassment and Online Gender-based Violence Hinders Progress in Sri Lanka (Internews)

IFJ South Asia regional gender coordinator, Dilrukshi Handunnetti, was interviewed by Internews, discussing sexual harassment and online gender-based violence in Sri Lanka, drawing particular reference to her personal and professional experience, as well as her work as the regional gender coordinator. More here.

6. Closure of news outlets signals further erosion of media freedom in the Maldives (CPJ)

News outlets in the Maldives are closing down, one after another. The story at each publication is different, sometimes complicated, but the outcome is the same: journalists are facing a tougher time doing their jobs. On July 3, a Maldives court barred journalists from the paper Haveeru, which is involved in an ownership dispute, from seeking employment at other media organizations until February 2018, news accounts reported. The court said Haveeru had suffered damages after mass resignations. Dozens of journalists had flocked a few months earlier to Mihaaru, a new paper and online news website set up in the wake of the dispute that led to Haveeru, the country's oldest and most widely circulated newspaper, being closed. More here.

7. State to appeal ‘unlawful’ work ban on ex-Haveeru staff (Maldives Independent)

The attorney general’s office has decided to appeal a two-year ban imposed by a civil court judgment on former Haveeru staff for working at any other media organisations. The much-derided order issued on July 3 had threatened the closure of Mihaaru, a newspaper set up in May by former Haveeru journalists who resigned en masse after the country’s oldest newspaper was shut down amid an ownership dispute. The state believes the order is unconstitutional, unlawful, invalid, and cannot be enforced, the AG office but it will only appeal the portion of the judgment that imposed the the two-year ban. Read more.

8. Sri Lanka to set up an Independent Commission for media sector (Colombo Page)

Sri Lanka plans to set up an independent commission for media sector to improve the standards of media and uplift journalism, the Government Information Department said. The independent commission is expected to set minimum salary standards and code of ethics, which will be used to issue accreditation cards in the future. Read more.

9. Bangladesh Says It Now Knows Who’s Killing the Bloggers – (New York Times)

At least 39 people have been killed in attacks with machetes, guns and bombs since February 2013. The killings, mostly with machete blows to the back of the victim’s neck, have been accelerating lately, with five people murdered in April, four in May and at least three so far in June.

The Bangladeshi authorities say that they now believe they have identified the top leadership of the two groups they say are responsible, and that they are preparing to round them up. Only when the leaders are caught, they caution, will the attacks be stopped, and at that, only for a while if the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is not blunted.

Read more here.

10. ‘The IPC gets you where the story takes you’

The IFJ has launched an international campaign to promote the International Press Card (IPC), IFJ’s global press pass. The campaign highlights the importance of the card for journalists across the world, working to support their safety and recognition across the globe.

The IPC is available to all IFJ affiliate members and can give you access to EU and UN government officials, as well as assist in important and sometimes dangerous situations.

For more information visit the IFJ website here.

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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: https://samsn.ifj.org/us/

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