South Asia Media Solidarity Bulletin: March 2015

Welcome to the monthly e-bulletin of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). The next bulletin will be sent on April 15, 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

This e-bulletin and South Asia related contents are available at the SAMSN Digital Hub: http://samsn.ifj.org 

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In this bulletin:

1.    IFJ launches gender campaign for Asia-Pacific’s women in media

2.    IFJ launches “Trail of Violence” – Asia-Pacific tops killed list

3.    Sri Lanka media delegation promised action on Freedom of Information

4.    Journalist killer arrested and convicted in Karachi

5.    US-Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death

6.    Bangladesh journalist Nadia Sharmin to get US award for bravery

7.    Former Outlook India editor Vinod Mehta passes away

8.    SAMSN Blog: Afghanistan’s women journalists on the frontline

9.    Ban on gang-rape documentary raises Freedom of Expression debate in India

10.  Maldives Court excludes a TV station from covering hearings

11.  Essar Group leaks in India raises fingers on journalists’ professionalism

12.  SAMSN Blog: Fighting without fear in Pakistan

13.  Bhutanese Journalism Review published

14.  Request for contributions to the South Asia Press Freedom Report 2015

1. IFJ launches gender campaign for Asia-Pacific’s women in media

The IFJ and its affiliates have begun a campaign of gender action and discussion aimed at recognizing the vital role of women in the media and the need for rights and representation in decision-making roles in both the media and unions.

The campaign started with the launch of a special series of country reports from across the Asia-Pacific region exploring “media through a gender lens” to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). Seven country reports from Cambodia, India Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu detail the experience of men and women journalists at work and in their unions, highlighting some commonalities as well as individual issues and areas of concern in each country.

In India,the well-established and strong media landscape is full of women journalists, yet sexual harassment remains a critical issue for the industry. In Nepal, the lack of security in women’s employment and poor working conditions has created a sense of fear and instability among women journalists. Pakistan has a vibrant media industry but the media and unions remain male dominated and women come up against ‘glass ceilings’ and ‘sticky floors’. In Sri Lanka the media industry is plagued with instability and inherent stereotyping also means women journalists are increasingly pushed to cover ‘soft beats’ such as gender issues, arts and culture. 

The seven country reports were completed as part of the IFJ/UNESCO Research and Media in the Asia Pacific project. The regional report, which was completed with support from Uks will be released with UNESCO on May 3.

See release of key issues here and read more here.

2. IFJ launches “Trail of Violence” - Asia-Pacific tops killed list

The IFJ launched its 24th annual report detailing the journalists and media workers killed around the world. The 2014 report, Trail of Violence, calls for a united front to deliver media safety across the world with the death toll for 2014 reaching a shocking 118 targeted killings plus another 17 killed accidentally in the line of their work. The IFJ said the report confirms a pattern of increasing violence against journalists which has reached record levels over the last decade despite global efforts to end the brutal attacks.

“No country should aspire to hold the title of the most deadly for journalists, but sadly too many governments have allowed the targeting of media workers to remain a low priority,” said Asia-Pacific acting director, Jane Worthington.

For the Asia-Pacific, the prognosis is grim. The Asia Pacific was the deadliest region for journalists in the world in 2014, with 39 killings. Pakistan topped the global list with 14 murders. Followed by Afghanistan with nine, and the Philippines with four.

Read the statement here and download the full report here.

3. Sri Lanka media delegation promised action on Freedom of Information

An international solidarity delegation visited Sri Lanka this month to explore the fragile state of press freedom in the country in the wake of the presidential election that ousted Mahindra Rajapaksa in January. The delegation comprised IFJ, IFEX and IPI and visited the country on the invitation of IFJ affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM).

During the five-day visit, the delegation travelled to Sri Lanka’s north to meet with journalists from Jaffna as well as provincial and regional journalists. It then visited the country’s capital, Colombo, for meetings with government ministers, metropolitan journalists and unions and conducted a national press conference and civil society forum on media freedom.

Government representatives promised the delegation that the long-awaited Freedom of Information act would be tabled within a month. It also vowed for action on impunity for crimes against journalists, with the opening of investigations into the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge in 2009 and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda in 2010. The delegation noted the near universal agreement by journalists that the situation in Sri Lanka had dramatically improved since the January 8 elections, yet there remains uncertainty particularly in the north in Jaffna.

Read more here and here.  

4. Journalist killer arrested and convicted in Karachi

Faisal Mehmood, known as Faisal Mota was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death for the murder of Geo News journalist, Wali Khan Babar in 2011. Babar was brutally slain as he returned home from work following a story of his airing on gang violence. Mehmood was one of six convicted for the murder.

On March 11, Mehmood was arrested during a raid at the Kararchi headquarters of secular political party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The arrest is the just the second time in Pakistan’s history when a journalist killer has been arrested and convicted.

During the trial of Babar’s killers, nine witnesses were murdered including policemen and prosecutors. The trial had to be move several times due to ongoing security threats.

5. US-Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death

US-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in a machete attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 26. The US-based blogger and founder of Mukto-Muno (free mind) blog, was attacked along with his wife outside a book fair near Dhaka University. Roy published articles on scientific reasoning and religion, and was had been receiving a number of death threats, the most recent saying he would be killed upon his arrival in Dhaka. Roy was in Bangladesh to launch two of his new books.

His wife was also critically injured in the attack, which took place as they travelled by rickshaw from the book fair. On March 2, radical Islamist Farabi Shafiur Rahman was arrested for the attack. Rahman, a member of the banned pan-Islamist outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir, had threatened Roy several times over Facebook, including the most recent threats.

Roy is the second blogger brutally murdered in Bangladesh in the last 12 months. Read more here.

6. Bangladesh journalist Nadia Sharmin awarded for bravery

Nadia Sharmin, was selected for the 2015 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. The award, which was presented by the United States Secretary of State, was presented to 10 extraordinary women from 10 countries in Washington. Sharmeen was one of two recipients from the South Asia region.

In 2013, Nadia was attacked on assignment in Dhaka by Hefazat-e-Islam zealots, as she covered the Dhaka siege. Following the attack, her employer the Ekushey TV denied sending her on assignment and did not cover her medical expenses and eventually forcing her to resign.

Sharmin now works as a crimes reporter with another TV station and has been a staunch women rights advocate. The Department of State introduced the award in 2007 to recognize the exceptional courage and leadership of women around the world. Read more here and here.

7. Former Outlook India editor Vinod Mehta passes away

Veteran journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of Outlook India, Vinod Mehta passed away in New Delhi on March 8.

Mehta, 72, died of multiple organ failure at Delhi's AIIMS hospital. He was the founder and editor-in-chief of Outlook from 1995 to 2012. An eminent political commentator, he also authored a number of books and remained editor of several publications including The Pioneer, The Sunday Observer, The Independent and The Indian Post

He is survived by wife Sumita Paul, also a journalist, who worked with The Pioneer and The Sunday Times of India. Read more here, here and here.

8. SAMSN Blog: Afghanistan’s women journalists on the frontline

Dilrukshi Handunnetti wrote how Afghan female journalists face a number of challenges working in the media. They face gender-based discrimination by employers, sexual harassment in the workplace and general lack of facilitation. During a workshop in Afghanistan conducted by Handunnetti, a number of female journalists told her that sexual harassment is the key reason for women’s reluctance to enter the field of journalism. They also said that this explains for the low participation of women in the media, making up just one tenth of accredited journalists in Afghanistan. The workshop participants agreed that the absence of in-house policies and mechanisms supporting women is hindering their participation.

There’s an issue with Afghanistan’s newsrooms when it comes to women journalists’ safety. Men must be part of the solution, read more here.

Index on Censorship also covered the issue of Afghan woman journalists: How Afghanistan’s female journalists are covering the stories no one else can. Read it here.

9. Ban on gang-rape documentary raises Freedom of Expression debate in India

A decision by an Indian court to ban the broadcasting of a documentary on the 2012 Delhi gang-rape – India’s Daughter – following political outcry has raised a debate on freedom of expression in India. The documentary features an interview with convicted rapist in the jail. While there has been accusations that filmmaker Leslee Udwin has distorted facts and lied to Indian authorities while filming the documentary, the media has been critical of decision to ban the film.

In a move to protest the government's decision to ban the documentary from being telecast in India, NDTV decided to go off air for one hour and hold a 'silent protest'. From 9pm to 10pm on March 8, NDTV ran a black screen with the name of the documentary on the screen. On the ticker, the channel ran quotes by various personalities and organisations who have opposed the ban. The Editors Guild of India also released out a statement against the government's ban of the documentary.

10. Maldives Court excludes a TV station from covering hearings

In what is the clear attempt to harass journalists, a court in the Maldives barred RaajjeTV journalists from entering the court to cover the hearings during former President Mohamed Nasheed's trial.  Mr. Nasheed was on trial for terrorism charges for illegally ordering the arrest of a judge in 2012.

The Criminal Court put the ban because ‘the activities of RaajjeTV journalists are life threatening to the judges’. The decision came after RaajjeTV cameraman Adam Zareer and journalist Ahmed Ibrahim were arrested on March 8 while covering a secret meeting between prosecutor and judge of the trail in a public café. Read more here.

11. Essar Group leaks in India raises fingers on journalists’ professionalism

The Indian Express daily published news reports based on internal company communications from the Essar Group, a multinational with investments in steel, energy and infrastructure. The communications were made available by a whistleblower, who claims that Essar group cultivated individuals in positions of power, including ministers, bureaucrats and journalists, to push their business interests. The issue has raised questions over professionalism and ethical standards of journalists.

The correspondence includes purported emails and memos referring to meetings with government officials and alleged favors to ministers, bureaucrats and journalists. Since the publication of the reports, at least two journalists have resigned from their current posts. Read more here and here.

12. SAMSN Blog: Fighting without fear in Pakistan

“Journalists in Pakistan are brave, knowledgeable and they do criticise government policies, they have been front runners in exposing the Taliban and their ideology. So these are the reasons (for Pakistan to become the most dangerous country for journalists in the world) but still the general public does support the media in Pakistan.”

According Rana Azeem, the Lahore-based Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) leader, these are some of the reasons Pakistan remains the most dangerous country for journalists. Read the full interview on the SAMSN Digital Hub.

13. Bhutanese Journalism Review published

The Bhutan Media Foundation has published the inaugural Bhutanese Journalism Review. The first issue of the tri-annual magazine illustrates the media landscape in Bhutan and suggests some key steps forward. Download the magazine here.

14. Request for contributions to the South Asia Press Freedom Report 2015

The IFJ Asia Pacific will publish the annual South Asia Press Freedom Report 2015 on the May 3, 2015 as part of the global World Press Freedom Day campaign. The annual report published with support from UNESCO features country reports from South Asia, an impunity chapter, a gender chapter and small monitoring reports, coming from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. For any contributions on these topics please contact Ujjwal Acharya at ifjsouthasia@gmail.com.

All the SAMSN member organizations should send their press statements, reports or suggestions for the report before March 27, 2015 to ifjsouthasia@gmail.com.

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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: http://samsn.ifj.org/

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