Building Resistance, Organising for Change: IFJ Launches Eleventh Annual Press Freedom Report for South Asia

 

Media Release: SAMSN                                                                                       

May 3, 2013           

 

On

World Press Freedom Day, 2013, the International Federation of Journalists

(IFJ) with UNESCO support launches a report on South Asia, the eleventh in an

annual series that reviews all developments that have a bearing on media

freedom and quality journalism in the region.

 

IFJ’s

South Asia Press Freedom Report for 2013, titled “Building Resistance,

Organising for Change”, seeks to bring into sharp focus the diverse experiences

of media practitioners in the South Asian region. Over the year under review,

these have ranged from the continuing threat of legal action and the growing

menace of physical violence, to the challenges posed by new forms of

inter-personal communication and engagement with the media and the defence of

the traditional values of the craft.

 

Looming

over all these is the issue of financial viability, which has emerged with a

renewed force in the currently unsettled economic times. In some of the smaller

South Asian countries, with weakly institutionalised media industries,

financial viability has always  been a

constant challenge. But even in countries with well established industries and

long settled traditions, such as India, developments over the year have

unsettled some of the optimism of the last decade of rapid growth in the media.

The issue of transparency in ownership and editorial functioning has been

brought to the foreground. Accountability and credible modes of regulation

still remain relevant.

 

Physical

safety was sharply in focus as a priority in a region which remains one of the

most dangerous for journalists to operate in. In Nepal and Sri Lanka, violence

against journalists and the media has been a disturbingly recurrent phenomenon

over the past twelve months. Prolonged internal warfare, now formally declared at

an end in both countries, presented serious challenges for independent

journalism while a blanket of impunity for violent acts committed during the

war continues and political settlement remains elusive.

 

Pakistan’s

status as a frontline state in a global conflict continues to deepen ethnic and

sectarian fractures. The past twelve months have seen a further deterioration

in the safety environment for journalists. Pakistan has had its impunity rating

increasing rapidly and without break for the last four years.

 

The

growth of social media has over the year, added a new dimension to both the opportunities

and challenges facing journalism. In India, a cartoonist had his website shut

down and then faced arrest on sedition charges, for satirising corruption using

depictions of the national flag. In another context, noxious rumours

circulating through the internet and the mobile phone network led to a mass

panic and the flight of people of a certain ethnicity from some of India’s most

cosmopolitan cities.

 

In

Bangladesh, young activists campaigning for the trial of war-crimes accused

from the country’s 1971 war of national liberation, were arrested for posting

putatively “atheistic” material on their blogs. In the Maldives, a campaigner

for religious tolerance, suffered a near fatal attack, provoked by material he

had posted on his blog.

 

The

year saw a growth in instances where national laws were applied to suppress

freedom of expression. Legal actions and inconsistent judicial practices

contributed to a culture of censorship. In India, heightened concern over

terrorism led to a number of journalists being criminally charged and in

certain cases, arrested under special security laws.

 

Governments

continue to block access to information, for example when Afghanistan’s

parliament convened in 2012, the main halls and the press galleries were

declared out of bounds for journalists.

 

At

a more general level, journalists face a situation of having to fight for the

credibility of their profession as the region witnesses the growing integration

of the media with other, unrelated business interests. None of the countries in

South Asia has yet worked out a credible means of regulating this intrusion of

commercialism into the media.

 

In

the Maldives, the government continues to stand by the ill-advised decision to

reserve all official advertisements for a special gazette, denying independent

media this important financial sustenance and making them dependent on a

variety of commercial and political actors. In Bhutan, an arbitrary change of

rules by the electoral authorities, since rescinded, meant that most

independent media platforms would be denied political advertising during the

ongoing election campaign.

 

In

India, the year under review saw the prospect of employment and livelihood

anxieties multiplying for journalists who had taken what seemed like lucrative

opportunities in a number of new media platforms promoted by finance, real

estate and other companies through the boom years of the last decade.

 

Journalists

still struggle for fair wages and decent working conditions. In India,

Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal principally, established laws on the protection

of living standards are being breached with little consequence. In other

countries such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Afghanistan, the struggle is

underway for securing protections under the law for the wages and working

conditions of the media community.

 

Countries

in South Asia call out for sensible regulatory frameworks that do not impede

the public right to freedom of expression and access to information, and

safeguard the media from the commercial intrusions that have deeply eroded its

credibility.

 

Like

the ten that have preceded, this year’s report is part of the continuing effort

of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) for sharing experiences and

building foundations for united action across frontiers.

 

The

continuing financial support from UNESCO for this annual report is gratefully

acknowledged.

 

For

further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0950

Or

South

Asia Coordinator, Sukumar Muralidharan on +91-98105-18009

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

Find

the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

Find

the IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific