Press Freedom in the Balance in South Asia

 

Press Freedom in

the Balance in South

Asia

 

IFJ

Releases Sixth Annual Report

 

The sixth annual South Asia press freedom report, In the Balance: Press Freedom in South Asia 2007-2008, produced

by the International Federation of

Journalists (IFJ) for the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) and

released today ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, highlights the serious

challenges that continue to confront the media in a region that is home to more

than one-fifth of humanity.

 

The challenges range from political

coercion and violence by State and non-State actors to commercial compulsions

and advertiser pressure. All these factors can have a chilling effect on good

journalistic practices, and impinge on the public’s right to independent and

critical information.

 

“The In the Balance report highlights that many journalists and media workers continue to confront extreme

dangers in the conduct of their work and many are restricted – often violently –

in reporting in the interests of the public good and the accountability of

power-holders,“ said IFJ Asia-Pacific

Director Jacqueline Park.

 

The report notes that when

governments do not act decisively against a culture of impunity for attacks

against the media, journalists and media workers are often compelled to adopt a

play-safe attitude. Even where there is no overt restraint on the right to free

speech, a hostile environment can compel the media to engage in self-censorship

rather than risk retribution.

 

In most countries in the region, the

report adds, the regulatory environment remains ill-defined, especially for the

rapidly growing electronic media. In several countries, rival political parties

and other civil society actors observe few accepted standards regarding the

right to free speech.

 

The year from May 2007 to April 2008

was one of delicate political transition in several countries. Afghanistan struggled with the problems of reconstruction, and its institutions of law and

governance are still nascent. The Afghan media community campaigned successfully

to inscribe strong clauses on the right to free speech in the Constitution. But

getting State and civil society actors to honour these guarantees is a

challenge, as typified by the death sentence passed on Sayed Parvez Kambakhsh, a

young journalist, in January this year.

 

Nepal and

Pakistan held firm to the course of democratisation. The media community in both

countries played a significant role in the relative success with which political

change was achieved. Journalists’ organisations are utilising the transition

period in both countries to argue for effective legal safeguards against the

attacks on press freedom that have occurred in the recent

past.

 

Nepali journalists succeeded in

ensuring that a right to information law was enacted. They have also secured

significant amendments to the Working Journalists’ Act. But implementation

remains a challenge.

 

Likewise for Pakistan, where the legal framework

protecting journalists’ rights to fair wages and working conditions has for long

existed, implementation remains to be addressed.

 

The media in Bangladesh has been curbed

under the “emergency” regime. Efforts to report accurately on matters of public

importance, involving the student community and the farm sector, have drawn

official expressions of displeasure. Yet the media has succeeded in making its

voice heard. Its critical attitude is one factor impelling the regime to deliver

on promises to create a more secure environment for democracy. A draft law on

the right to information was introduced recently and a community radio policy

has been unveiled. Although far from ideal in their conception, these drafts

provide a reasonably sound basis for public debate.

 

The downward slide in Sri

Lanka accelerated, and the media in

that country continues to be a casualty of unrelenting war. The relationship

between the State, civil society and the media has deteriorated rapidly.

Weakening democratic commitments on the part of the authorities have encouraged

an environment of impunity for corruption and human rights violations. Senior

political figures and government officials have publicly questioned the

patriotism of independent and critical-minded journalists. Restrictions on

reporting from areas of conflict leave most of the public unaware of the means

used to pursue a war being fought ostensibly for their

security.

 

India continued

to reflect diverse trends in its internal media dynamics. Regions such as the

north-eastern states, Jammu and

Kashmir and the central Indian plateau and plains,

continued to suffer internal strife. The media in these parts was often caught

between the demands of rival insurgent groups and State security agencies. In

overall terms, the media registered a growth rate in excess of the rest of the

economy. Yet there are concerns about media concentration. What appears to be a

diversity of media sources may not really be so.

 

Serious ethical breaches by some

broadcast and print organisations in India prompted a demand from

governmental and judicial authorities for greater oversight of the media.

India’s media industry is influential

enough to withstand any challenge to its autonomy, but its credibility could be

a casualty amid perceptions that it is motivated solely by

profit.

 

“Despite the problems confronting

the region, there is room for optimism,” said Ms Park. “However, press freedom

cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires a united front among journalists

and their organisations, media owners, political power-holders, community

leaders and ordinary people. If we work together, press freedom can indeed be

achieved and contribute to the consolidation of free, stable and secure

societies across all of South

Asia.”

 

In the Balance: Press Freedom in South Asia presents trends in detail for each country,

and lists the records prepared by IFJ affiliates and partners of direct attacks

on journalists and media workers, noting media workers killed and incidents of

physical harm and intimidation, and abductions and detentions.

 

 

For country media

inquiries, contact:

 

Afghanistan

Rahimullah

Samander

President, Afghan Independent

Journalists’ Association, Kabul

m) +93 (799)

300-004

b) +93 (700) 214-748 / + 93 (700)

649-635 / +93 (75) 200-162-3

samander2003@yahoo.com

 

Bangladesh,

India, Nepal

Sukumar

Muralidharan

South Asia Program Manager,

International Federation of

Journalists, New

Delhi

m) +91-981-051-8009  

b) +91-124-405-6719

sukumar.md@gmail.com

 

Pakistan

Mazhar

Abbas

Secretary General, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Islamabad

m) +92 (300)

8294604

abbas.mazhar@gmail.com

 

Sri

Lanka

Sunanda

Deshapriya

Convenor, Free Media Movement,

Colombo

m)

+94-077-731-2457

b) +

94-11-237-5239

sunanda@cpalanka.org

 

For further

information, contact:

Anna

Noonan

Project Coordinator, IFJ Asia-Pacific

b) +61 (2)

9333-0919

ifj@ifj-asia.org

 

 

 

The

IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120

countries