IFJ Launches Situation Reports on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka

The International

Federation of Journalists, in collaboration with partners and affiliates released

situation reports on journalists’ rights and the state of media freedom in

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The information presented in the reports is the

result of extensive consultations between the IFJ and its partners, field

visits and interviews by IFJ personnel in the two countries.

 

The reports highlight

the current priority areas for campaign and advocacy work in the two countries

and identify focus areas for future international solidarity actions.

 

In Bangladesh, the

deeply polarised nature of national politics continues to create fissures

within the media, with owners, who are often compelled to take sides, pressuring

professional staff. Political contention is likely to mount as the country

approaches national Parliamentary elections in 2013. Constitutional amendments

enacted by the current government in 2011, ostensibly to imbed what it portrays

as the values of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle, have led to serious discord,

and opposition protests have been mounting, particularly against a clause which

does away with the system of holding national elections under neutral,

caretaker administrations.

 

After several false

starts, the process of bringing to account individuals accused of crimes and

atrocities during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of liberation began in 2011. But the

pressures and political sensitivities associated with the proceedings of the

International Crimes Tribunal – a body created by Bangladesh national law –

have not abated despite broad consensus on the need for accountability. Media

reporting on the proceedings of the tribunal has often come under the scrutiny

of the tribunal, which has twice held particular newspapers and journalists

guilty of contempt.

 

There have been

multiple cases where particular newspapers have been charged under the

defamation law. The allocation of broadcast spectrum for television channels is

often seen to be a source of exerting control and a form of censorship.

 

Safety issues were

highlighted by the brutal twin murder of a journalist couple in the capital

city Dhaka, in February, and in a number of retaliatory attacks by political

actors, for reporting deemed as critical.

 

Bangladesh’s

journalists began a campaign in February 2012 to secure a new wage accord for

themselves. Under national law, statutory bodies are required to be created

every few years to ensure that journalists’ wages and working conditions are

appropriate to their requirements of sustaining a high level of professional

motivation and commitment. These efforts were rewarded in June 2012, when a

wage board comprising representatives of the journalists’ unions, the media

industry and government was constituted under the chairmanship of a former

Supreme Court judge.

 

Important policy

changes in recent times have enabled a growth of community radio in Bangladesh,

though licensing processes are seen as excessively complicated. A right to

information bill enacted in 2009 promises greater accountability and

transparency in governance, though it is seen to grant too many exceptions and

the number of those who have been motivated to use it, is still very modest.

 

IFJ partners in Sri

Lanka have been campaigning for media freedom to be recognised as an essential

part of the process of national reconciliation, following the end of the

country’s quarter-century long civil war in 2009. Their efforts are yet to be

recognised, since few reforms have been implemented in the media sector and the

recommendations of a high-level commission on national reconciliation remain

largely on paper.

 

Media reporting on

the process of resettlement and rehabilitation in the country’s Northern Province,

which suffered the worst ravages of the civil war, has often been impeded by

security personnel who continue to be deployed there. And far from assuring accountability

for the number of attacks and killings of journalists during the war, the

pattern of violence has persisted in the years following.

 

Journalists and human

rights defenders are often attacked by official spokespeople on government-controlled

media channels, contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance for even

legitimate criticism of the government. Websites that carry news and current

affairs content on Sri Lanka have been subject to arbitrary rules of

registration and in some cases, to police raids and seizure of equipment.

 

Financially

vulnerable media houses have been subject to further pressures as increased

costs passed on from banks and financial institutions threatens their

sustainability. In addition, change of ownership has often resulted in rapid

changes in editorial policies and personnel.

 

The revival of the

Press Council of Sri Lanka is seen to embody a very real coercive intent on the

part of the government, since the 1973 law under which the body is constituted

conceives of a number of possible sanctions against the media, including the

power to prosecute under various provisions of criminal law. The Sri Lanka

Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body set up by the media

industry, has been seeking to establish its credentials as an institution that

is fully equipped to deal with current challenges.

 

The situation reports

on Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were prepared with the financial support of UNESCO,

under the International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC).

The report on Bangladesh is available in English and Bangla and the report on

Sri Lanka, in English, Sinhala and Tamil.

 

The reports can be

found here.

 

For

further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0950

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

 

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