The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has
this year, as in the past, collaborated with a range of partners in South Asia
to produce a report which reviews developments in the region that have had a
bearing on press freedom and quality journalism.
The report has been published with the generous
financial support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Like the nine that have preceded it, this year’s
report is part of the continuing effort of the South Asia Media Solidarity
Network (SAMSN) to build foundations for united action across borders by the
World Press Freedom Day 2012 comes at a time of
momentous challenges for journalism in South Asia. Journalists in the region
have responded to these challenges by seeking a manner of professional
engagement that reflects all South Asia’s rich diversities.
Physical security remains an issue in most of South
Asia. The relative improvement seen in several countries of the region may have
been achieved by deliberate decisions cut the risks involved in reporting
highly sensitive stories. And the sharp deterioration of an already bad
situation in Pakistan far outweighed the slight improvements elsewhere.
Journalism was a hazardous pursuit through long years
of internal conflict in Nepal and Sri Lanka. And now with conflict at an end
and processes of political reconciliation underway, journalists are finding
that several of the passions of the years of open warfare are yet to subside.
Verbal aggression against journalists who dare to report all sides of a story
and stand up for basic norms of fair treatment continues to be a threat. And if
the record of the past is any indication, verbal aggression is normally a
precursor to physical violence.
Important processes of accountability have been
initiated in Nepal, to dispel the climate of impunity for attacks on journalists
that hung heavy over the media all through the years of conflict.
Though all countries in South Asia have formal
guarantees of a free press in their written constitutions, there is a
persistence of formal and informal systems of censorship. In recent times,
these threats have been manifest in the May 2011 advisory sent out to all media
organisations in the North-Eastern Indian state of Manipur, warning against the
publication or broadcast of material “directly or indirectly in support of the unlawful/
illegal activities of various organisations”. In Afghanistan, where the
institutions of electoral democracy are yet to establish their authority in
relation to customary mechanisms of social governance, a council of religious
clerics has sought to directly influence media policy and content, though with
only partial success.
India has, in its vastness, displayed diverse trends.
There are parts of the country where journalism functions with few constraints
and dangers apart from the constant pressure of commercialisation. In the
conflict prone regions such as Kashmir, the North-Eastern states and the Maoist
insurgency districts — where journalism that tells the full story could make a
difference — tensions persist and dangers are ever present.
In Pakistan, the year that has just passed was one of
serious hazard and trauma. Within this frontline state in a global conflict,
the combatant parties are many and international humanitarian norms are
disregarded by all. Journalists in Pakistan have to steer a perilous course
between hostile elements. Sectarian conflict in the vast metropolis of Karachi
and an insurgency in the sprawling but sparsely populated province of
Balochistan, are additional elements of risk.
A transition towards a more liberal political regime
in the Maldives was set back over the year. But in Bhutan, the people still
retain faith in the movement towards a democratic political order under a
constitutional monarchy. Professionalisation of journalism remains a challenge
in both these, the two smallest nations of South Asia, where media ownership is
all too often, closely tied to powerful business and political interests.
Bangladesh witnessed new stirrings of discord after
some years when the customary acrimony between the country’s main political
parties was relatively subdued. The less than cordial environment of political
contestation has had a severe impact on journalism, fuelling bitter
partisanship within the media. And over the year just gone by, additional
pressures have developed, that seek to enforce conformity in both the written
and spoken word, with the decrees of a tribunal established to try war crimes
committed during the country’s 1971 war of liberation.
In Afghanistan, periodic outbursts of civil strife,
the continuing threat of insurgency and the imminent prospect of a withdrawal
of western military force, created an environment of serious uncertainty that
has allowed little in the way of public-spirited journalism to take root or
grow. Opaque structures of ownership and the direct stakes that the more
powerful political players have acquired in the media, pose another dimension
of problems for ethical journalism.
Together with all these difficulties, there has been a
growing crisis of livelihoods within the profession. The wage board process in
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, that determines wages and working conditions
for journalists, is in a state of crisis. Media houses are increasingly able to
find ways of evading its stipulations. In the absence of a regular appointment
system under a wage board, or a working journalists’ act, campaigns for decent
work and ethical practices become risky endeavours. Nepal, which secured
significant amendments to its Working Journalists’ Act in 2006, in recognition
of the constructive role played by the media in the restoration of democracy,
is now finding that the crux of the matter really lies in the implementation.
The shift towards contract and casual employment has
led to a weakening of professional commitment and the growing influence of
commercial and advertising departments in the functioning of media houses.
At the same time, journalists and media have been
facing increasing threats through the legal process. Often, the purpose of
these actions is not to secure meaningful redress, but merely to impose a form
of censorship through legal injunction.
Freedom in South Asia report is now available on the IFJ website.
For further information contact
IFJ Asia-Pacific on +91-124-4056719
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