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Building Union Capacity for Human Rights and Conflict Reporting

IFJ-FES Workshop

Background paper

1. Introduction

South Asia continues to be one of the most dangerous regions in the world for journalists. In several countries in the region they face attacks from criminal gangs, religious fundamentalists, terrorists and armed separatists. Police and security agents also arrest, intimidate and harass journalists and other media workers. Despite a widening democracy - and at least lip service in all countries- governments are seizing the opportunity of the war on terrorism to crack down on press freedom through draconian laws as well as extra-legal means.

Democratic organisations and journalist unions face pressure from employers and governments that demonstrate a lack of respect for the independent role of the working media. If truth is the first casualty of war, then journalists themselves are often the first to suffer in periods of civil or political unrest. Across South Asia, during the past two years, a variety of conflicts continue to put at risk not only journalists' physical safety, but also their ability to tell the truth fearlessly. The lack of bringing to book the perpetrators of murders, attacks and abductions of journalists has exacerbated the situation.

The rights of journalists are basic to a democratic society. They include the right to operate in a democratic legal framework with access to information, protection of sources, freedom to report professionally and to practice journalism in a safe environment and satisfactory working conditions. When these rights are under attack, the very underpinnings of civil society are at risk.

Concerned about the increasing intolerance toward independent journalism and rising violence against journalists, an unprecedented coalition of South Asian journalists' unions and press freedom organizations, met under the umbrella of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Nepal in September 2002, and agreed to stand in solidarity and work together to rebuild public respect for the work of journalists and for an independent pluralist media.

This solidarity among journalists in South Asia is based on a shared understanding of the importance of the craft of journalism, a commitment to good will, and on the most basic level, an understanding that journalists need to support each other to do their job in safety.

An ambitious plan of action was agreed setting priorities for work in the areas of human rights and safety, reporting conflict and diversity issues, strengthening democratic representative organizations of journalists and actions to achieve a more democratic media environment. Much work in these areas has already been undertaken but of course, more can be done.

This paper has been prepared to provide the important background information as representative journalist organizations and press freedom organizations come together again to consider the situation of journalists and journalism in South Asia now, review campaigns, actions and project work we have undertaken and continue planning for future solidarity actions and ongoing work, both at a national and regional level.

It is in three parts. The paper looks on a country-by-country basis first at the issues of conflict and journalists rights, second at Government controls and legislation deals and third, at working conditions and trade union rights. Finally, it explains some of the campaigns, activities and project work undertaken by the IFJ and its partners in South Asia in the past two years.

A copy of the 2002 Action Plan is at attachment 1 below.
A list of organizations to be represented at the meeting is at attachment 2 below.

2. Conflict and Journalists' Rights

In Afghanistan, emerging out of almost quarter a century of civil strife, Taliban rule and the US-led "War on Terrorism", journalists looked forward to increased democratic freedoms. However, unresolved tensions among former warring factions still determine much of what happens in Afghanistan. Gunmen, warlords and extremist mullahs continue to threaten Afghanistan's new media freedom. In 2003 four journalists and media workers of Aftab (The Sun), publishing stories critical of senior mujahedeen and Northern Alliance commanders currently in the government, were targeted. The editors were tried in absentia on trumped up blasphemy charges and sentenced to death by the Afghanistan Supreme Court's fatwa department of religious scholars. The journalists were forced to flee the country. A journalist who supported the Aftab journalists was also forced to leave the country. The IFJ condemned the court's verdict, provided the journalists with financial assistance, and lobbied the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Afghan journalists committed to democratic media and professional solidarity have struggled to establish an independent union, despite pressure and domination from the Tajik political wing of the Northern Alliance. Journalists are also under constant surveillance and threatening phone calls of the government's intelligence directorate or the "Seventh Directorate" which, journalists report, seeks to monitor and influence educational institutions and the press.

Bangladesh continues to stand out as one of the most dangerous countries in Asia for journalists. This is made worse by the criminalisation of politics and the continuing culture of impunity for those committing and threatening violence against the media. Six journalists were killed in the period between May 2002 and September 2004. Hundreds of reported death threats, arrests, attacks, abductions, abusive lawsuits and prosecutions make the professional lives of journalists investigating corruption, organised crime, and political and religious violence extremely hazardous. The attacks and attempts to silence journalists can be directly related to their free and fearless reporting, often critical of the BNP-led government under Begum Khaleda Zia, which derives its support from Islamist hardline parties. Political parties and their youth wings also resort to their own form of censorship - in the shape of burning copies of newspapers whose reporting they do not like.

The lack of a strong private sector advertising market has made dissent hard to sustain. Journalists in Bangladesh report that government advertising, which at present makes up the vast bulk of advertising revenue in the developing market, is withheld from those publications which publish criticisms of the government.

Despite the risks involved an increasing number of qualified and competent young people are joining the ranks of journalism with the conviction that it is a noble profession. The hundreds of daily and weekly publications provide a forum for a wide range of views, with most newspapers reporting critically on government policies and activities.

In India, journalists continued to face the wrath of local gangsters, armed separatist groups and the security forces for their truth telling and exposés. Eight journalists were killed in India between 2002 and 2004. Most died at the hands of criminal gangs in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and armed separatist groups in the troubled Kashmir Valley and the strife-torn North East.

Strong-arm tactics by the government were not totally absent, however. The violence in Gujarat in March 2002 spawned its own share of attacks on the press, which played an exemplary role in reporting the communal carnage. The administration attempted, by exercising special powers of the police, to ban news channels like Star News. Muzzling the press in the name of "national security" and fighting "terrorism" continued, along with the misuse of contempt laws and invoking legislative privilege motions, like those used against the Hindu group. These actions, however, led to public outcry and generated a nation-wide campaign for press freedom.

The unexpected and dramatic fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre following early elections in May 2004 has contributed to strengthening many secular institutions eroded by the right-wing BJP. The recent announcement by the newly elected Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre of an ordinance to repeal the draconian POTA is a long-awaited and welcome step.

In the Maldives, with television and radio being state-run and the country's three newspapers under government control, Internet sites face severe repression. The continued detention and harassment of Internet dissidents make a mockery of constitutional protection of the right to free expression. The setting up of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations in September 2003, and the establishment, in December 2003, of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives holds the promise of more accountability from those who attempt to crush pro-democracy initiatives.

However, in August 2004 hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested after defying a ban on demonstrations. By 20 September there were 12 members of Parliament in prison for voicing their opinions. One, Ibrahim Shareef, is the Special Majlis Member for Male' Atoll and a popular journalist.

Freedom of expression and freedom of association remain heavily restricted in the Maldives today.

Nepalese journalists have been under intense pressure over the last two years with the CPN (Maoist) struggling to establish a "people's republic" and abolish Nepal's constitutional monarchy and the state's attempt to control the movement. The emergency from November 2001 to August 2002 was a period of intense repression of journalists. Yet, the situation has not improved significantly following the lifting of the emergency. The press has long advocated the need for a just resolution to the strife, and urged that the parties in conflict come to the negotiating table. Journalists have played a vital role in informing their communities and disseminating the views of both sides. Despite this, government forces and Maoists have both tried to muzzle the media, sometimes brutally. Both camps appear inclined to weaken the independent press.

Eight journalists and one media worker have been killed from May 2002 to September 2004 and hundreds more threatened and attacked. Following the collapse of the seven-month ceasefire in August 27 2003, several journalists were displaced from their work zone because of direct and indirect threats from the parties in conflict.

While no decree has been issued against the press, barriers to free movement have been created in the form of security checking. Journalists are deprived of factual information and are forced to publish stories on the basis of non-credible press releases. Newspapers are often confiscated by the authorities before reaching their destinations. Maoists have also blocked reporters from going to places to collect news (such as in Gorkha). They have accused independent journalists of being intelligence agents of the government, and continue to restrain journalists from reporting their excesses.

Death threats, abductions, police repression, detention and routine harassment continue to be daily realities for Nepalese journalists. However, Nepalese journalists have courageously resisted this pressure and adhered to professional values of objective reporting.

In Pakistan, freedoms have shrunk over the past two years as journalists have been charged with some of the most serious crimes - including blasphemy, which carries the death penalty, and sedition, which is punished with life imprisonment.

For the Pakistani print media the culprits have been varied - Islamists, sectarian parties, robbers and elected public representatives. But the authorities, in particular army officials, have emerged as the main wrongdoers, disabling the environment in which journalists can perform their profession in safety and without fear or favour. Murders, kidnappings, arrests, imprisonments, tortures, attacks, imposed news blackouts and banning of newspapers even before they are launched are stark examples of the deterioration in the state of the print media in general and the working conditions for journalists in particular. On one hand they face pressure from the intelligence agencies, political, religious and ethnic groups and on the other hand they face the restrictions from their own newspaper establishment. The situation is worse for journalists working in remote areas.

The policy of liberalisation of the airwaves, set in motion by President General Pervez Musharraf's military government in 2002 and carried forward by the elected government of Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, has brought in more private players in the radio and television sectors.

Sri Lanka since May 2003 has been marked by dramatic developments. Following the sixth round of talks between representatives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Government in March 2003, the LTTE announced its withdrawal from further negotiations. This step caused consternation among observers of the peace process and created uncertainty and insecurity in the country. However, the government and the LTTE remained committed to maintaining the ceasefire and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) remained in place.

Subsequent to the stalling of the peace process the assertion of the executive powers of the President in November 2003, the sudden dissolution of Parliament, and a snap parliamentary election in April 2004 posed several challenges to the media in Sri Lanka. The newly elected United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) - a coalition between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and a number of other small left wing and nationalist groups - assumed power. A recent development in the local political arena has been the emergence of a strong Buddhist nationalist agenda within mainstream politics.

Unfortunately, the dissensions within the Tamil separatist movement have manifested in an escalation of violence against the news media. In May the murder of Aiyathurai Nadesan, a Tamil journalist considered to be close to the LTTE, came amid a resurgence of violence linked to a split within the Tamil Tigers.

Press freedom remains a critical issue. Part of this is the responsibility of journalists themselves who become caught up in the conflict and take sides rather than reporting from the sidelines. But, depressingly, individuals and organisations continue to receive threats and, on several occasions, actual physical harm from participants in the armed struggle. A complex issue to tackle, according to journalists in Sri Lanka, is the lack of ethnic diversity within newsrooms. This has meant that self-censorship on either side of the political divide remains a major problem.

While repressive laws continue to silence dissenting journalists, journalists have welcomed some legislative reform, notably in criminal defamation laws.

3. Government Controls and Legislation

Journalists in Afghanistan function under the watchful surveillance of the intelligence directorate known as the "Seventh Directorate" which, journalists report, seeks to monitor and influence educational institutions and the press. As journalists, pursuing an independent line and little loved by powerful armed faction leaders, they have become used to the directorate's pressure tactics such as watching their offices, following them and making threatening phone calls.

In March this year the Afghan government passed the Law on Mass Media. According to analysis by international press freedom NGO, Article 19, the law contains a number of positive provisions and represents an improvement over the 1992 Law of the Press, which it replaces. However, it was adopted without public consultation and debate and contains a number of provisions, which cause serious concern.

The legislation has some positive features, including the aims to promote freedom of expression, a prohibition on censorship and general recognition of the right to information from government. Some of the serious problems with it, however, include registration and licensing of media and printing houses by the Ministry of Information, content restrictions and lack of independence for the broadcast regulator.

Journalists in Bangladesh investigating cases of corruption face immense obstacles. The Official Secrets Act1980 gives government representatives the right to prevent access to official information, thus blocking access to vital information from government sources. During the past few years journalists' organisations including the National Federation have deplored the enactment of a dozen laws aimed at harassing or silencing members of the press.

All sections of the press vigorously protested against a private member's Bill, now called the Special Privileges and Powers Act 2002. They highlighted the fact that this legislation is contrary to the Constitution, which guarantees press freedom.

The Speedy Trial Act, which denies bail to defendants, and the Special Powers Act, which allows the police to hold a suspect until trial, are used to harass journalists and dictate what information they can publish. The Printing and Publications [Declaration and Registration] Ordinance (PPO) of 1973 also gives discretionary powers to local administrators to withdraw licenses from newspapers.

In September 2003 the government announced changes to the Telecommunications Act that would tighten control over e-mail traffic, legalise invasion of privacy and undermine free expression. These amendments were proposed at the request of the intelligence agencies and the Law Ministry on national security grounds. Similarly, in early 2004, the Information Ministry finalised a draft Private Broadcast Media (Radio and Television) Bill, 2004 - stringent legislation to control the electronic media, especially the satellite channels. Bangladesh has no law or policy to guide private radio and television channels. Broadcast of news, special programs and advertisements by private channels will also be controlled by the proposed Act.

The proposed Right to Information Act 2002, prepared by the Law Commission, while not without loopholes, is yet to be enacted. While the law is not an absolute guarantee, it would nevertheless demonstrate a commitment towards freedom of the press.

In India, the government has made use of a restrictive legal framework in order to coerce the media into toeing its line. Heavy-handed government use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the archaic Official Secrets Act (OSA) has resulted in journalists being jailed and others being intimidated. In a blow to journalistic freedom the Supreme Court of India, in December 2003, upheld the constitutional validity of POTA and declared that neither journalists nor lawyers had a "sacrosanct right" to withhold information regarding a crime under the guise of professional ethics. The IFJ has welcomed the Indian government's stated intention to repeal POTA.

In 2002 national security was cited as the reason for withdrawing Internet services as well as STD and ISD dialling from Jammu and Kashmir following the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. This move severely curtailed the ability of journalists to function properly.

Contempt of court motions were another method used to muzzle the press. The misuse of "legislative privilege" against The Hindu, a major newspaper, generated a nation-wide campaign for press freedom.

In addition, the Indian government has made extensive use of its defamation laws. And in the case of tehelka.com the BJP-led NDA government, stung by an expose on the renowned internet journal's site suggesting graft on the part of high government officials, pulled out just about every legal avenue open in order to harass the website virtually out of existence. The re-launch in January 2004 of Tehelka as a weekly paper, with a base of thousands of ordinary subscribers and investors, stands out as a triumph of independent journalism.

The recent announcement by the newly elected Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre of an ordinance to repeal the draconian POTA has been welcomed by the IFJ. The move is in line with the Congress view that POTA was being misused, and that existing laws (such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967) are sufficient to counter terrorism.

In Nepal, the recently introduced Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Act 2002, enacted mainly to control the CPN (Maoists) rebels, has also been used against journalists. Some journalists have reportedly been physically and psychologically tortured and detained journalists have been kept at secret locations for several days while being questioned without actually facing official charges. As a result of arbitrary detention more than 20 journalists and rights activists have filed complaints against the government at the district court of Kathmandu, Morang and Sunsari. The hearings continue.

As the pro-democracy movement gained momentum following the King's assumption of all executive powers on October 4 2002, there was increased government pressure on the media to follow the official line. While no decree has been issued against the press, barriers to free movement have been created in the form of security checking. Journalists are deprived of factual information and are forced to publish stories on the basis of non-credible press releases.

Journalists' organisations have been consistently urging the Nepalese authorities to create an environment in which media personnel can work without fear or intimidation. They have also urged the passing of a Right to Information Bill that would enhance transparency in public affairs and encourage good governance.

In Pakistan, the Hudood Ordinance, the Official Secrets Act and the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) have often been used to silence journalists. For instance, recently a journalist from Okara was detained under the MPO for writing on the land dispute between the peasants and the army. New media laws announced by the military regime of Pervez Musharraf after the elections in October 2002 make defamation a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment and fines of up to Rs 50,000 - many times the average journalist's monthly salary. The legislation also paved the way for the creation of a new Press Council with the power to ban publications. Bans are also implemented through other means. The Daily Islamabad Times was banned in August 2004, before it was even launched, by personnel of a secret service agency, possibly due the critical stands taken by the editor of the paper.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws see journalists detained, facing a maximum punishment of death.
The most high profile case was that of Pakistani journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, whose charges included sedition, which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, for abetting foreign journalists in preparing an allegedly fake film "showing Pakistan in a bad light". Although Rizvi has been released on bail, the case raises troubling questions about the nature of the work of media persons in Pakistan.

The recent move in August 2004 of tabling amendments to the Defamation Ordinance 2002 and the Pakistan Penal Code in the Pakistan National Assembly which seek to increase prison sentences from three months to one year and fines from 50,000 PKR to 300,000 PKR (US$5,200) came as a blow to journalistic freedoms. The amendments will allow defamation cases to be tried in district and sessions courts in addition to civil courts, while Clause three would allow a journalist, reporter, distributor, publisher or editor to be imprisoned for up to one year if found guilty of defamation against the government, a government official or another influential figure.

Government restrictions on movement also curtail freedom of the press and access to information, particularly in conflict-prone areas. A delegation of the Pakistan journalists union, the PFUJ, last week met the governor of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and raised the issue of excessive army control and demanded "free access" for journalists in the tribal areas of North Wazirstan, where the operation is underway against Al-Qaeda suspects. The recent PFUJ Federal Executive Council meeting also demanded abrogation of all "outdated laws" that threaten the freedom of the Press.

The Sri Lankan government continues to wield the Prevention of Terrorism Act in restraint of fair and open reporting. However there are signs that the legal framework under which the media operates is gradually liberalising.

Criminal defamation laws have been relied upon extensively in the past as a means to persecute editors and journalists for critical reportage. The beginning of 2002 saw five cases filed in the High Court of Colombo against prominent journalist and editor of the Ravaya newspaper Victor Ivan. Four other mainstream newspaper editors were also facing criminal defamation charges. Reforms to Sri Lanka's Penal Code in June 2002 saw the abolition of the statutes relating to criminal defamation, which will henceforth be treated as a civil matter.

State control over the media increased in Sri Lanka in November 2003 when the state owned media of Lake House, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, Independent Television Network (ITN) and Lak Handa radio all came under the direct control of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and changes were made in the management and administration to suit a partisan political agenda. In June 2004 opposition parties jointly submitted a proposal to make state media independent of political control, but the UPFA government did not support the proposal.

Cabinet approved the Freedom of Information Bill, initiated by the Editors Guild and facilitated by several civil society think tanks including the Centre for Policy Alternatives in December 2003. But the new government has not yet made any commitment to table the new Act before the Parliament. The Select Committee, appointed in August 2003, to inquire into the law relating to contempt of court was dissolved along with the old government. Contempt of court remains a serious threat to independent journalism in Sri Lanka.

4. Working Conditions and Trade Union Rights

It is estimated there are 7500 journalists working in different newspapers and news agencies in Bangladesh. Among the 2500 professional full-time journalists, there are 25 journalists' organisations in Dhaka.

Government control over the electronic media loosened somewhat with the emergence of three private channels. However, one of these, Ekushey Television (ETV), was closed down in 2002 by an order of the highest court of the country. After the general election in October 2001 the new government terminated the services of 54 journalists of the state-owned news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangtha (BSS) and 300 other journalists lost their jobs in different newspapers in Dhaka.

Working conditions of journalists continue to be abysmal. Although the Fifth Wage Board Award has been effective since October 1997, most proprietors including the state-owned news agency have not implemented it. Even the Newspaper Employees (Condition and Services) Act 1974 is flouted with impunity. While journalists work with low wages and in adverse conditions, division in the journalists' unions has weakened the struggle against high handedness by the government and employers.

In India, there are currently about 40,000 newspapers and magazines being published in more than 100 languages and dialects. The circulation of some dailies reaches nearly 1 million. More and more editions of newspapers are being published from district and small towns. While profits are soaring, the working and living conditions of journalists, the backbone of the industry, do not reflect this prosperity. Journalists working at the lower levels face the wrath of the mafia, militant outfits and terrorists. They are most vulnerable to attacks, often from unknown quarters, and most attacks go unreported.

The Wage Boards were set up under the Working Journalists Act 1955 to ensure decent working conditions for journalists but have not been implemented on a uniform basis. The newspaper establishment has attempted to bypass implementation of the Palekar, Bachawat and, most recently, the Manisana Award notified in December 2000. Unions have been demanding that non-implementation of Wage Boards be made a punishable offence and stringent penalties be imposed on newspaper establishments that fail to implement the Awards. The demand to set up a permanent Wage Board, which would give a sense of security to journalists, would also go a long way in upholding the independence of the press.

The greatest attack on journalists' social rights has been the introduction of the contract system that strips away statutory benefits and allows easy hire-and-fire policies, which many journalists argue has a negative impact on press freedom with many journalists no longer enjoying security of employment. The pressure to retain jobs, to adhere to the management line and tailor news reports and editorials is a serious concern that the Press Council noted as a threat to freedom of the press. Co-option and corruption among journalists, while a cause for serious introspection, cannot be seen in isolation from the job insecurity in the profession. The recent Labour Commission which recommended, among other things, amendment of labour laws in favour of employers, discontinuation of wage boards in any industry for fixing wage rates and doing away with the mandatory permission for laying off employees, provides an opportunity to forge unity among the press workers and journalists.

There are three journalists' organisations in Nepal which together organise the vast majority of journalists. The Nepal Press Union and the National Union of Journalists work primarily on trade union issues while the larger umbrella organisation with a comprehensive national branch structure, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, takes a leadership role on professional rights and national campaigns - most recently on journalists' safety. Together these organisations give journalists a strong central voice on social and professional rights issues as well as journalist's safety and press freedom. They are supported by an active press freedom NGO, CEHURDES on press freedom issues. Both FNJ and CEHURDES play a vital role in investigating and documenting the violations against journalists.

The Press Freedom Grand Jury-Nepal and CEHURDES have filed compensation cases against the government on behalf of 19 journalists and two human rights activists detained by the authorities during the period of emergency. At least seven journalists have been reported missing during this period.

In Pakistan, poor wage structure, lack of professionalism and the absence of professional editors has led to a deterioration in journalism in general. Today, the marketing director has become more powerful than the editor.

Working conditions in most of the newspapers in Pakistan have deteriorated, with more than 75 per cent of journalists working on contract or without appointment letters. For instance, a survey conducted by the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) of over a dozen newspapers and 602 journalists working in dailies and news agencies revealed that only 152 journalists, mostly from DAWN, Jang, APP, Business Recorder, and Daily Times have permanent jobs. Salaries are low and journalists do not enjoy medical or insurance facilities, gratuity or a provident fund. In at least 80 per cent of the newspapers and news agencies employers flout laws like the Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) Act, 1973 or Seventh Wage Award. Failure to implement the Wage Award has meant that thousands of newspaper employees do not receive their due wages and have been deprived of medical and other facilities entitled to them by law.
While the Pakistan Government in 1951 ratified the ILO Convention C87, which protects workers' rights to organise and freedom of association, union leaders face harassment and victimisation. For instance, in July this year, Makhdoom Bilal Aamir was victimised by his employer News Network International (NNI) because of his union activities.

Sri Lanka's long history of political interference in state-owned media continued in the elections of April 2004. Governments of all sides continue to use the state media for government canvassing. Journalists and editors are regularly removed with government changes. Journalists who did not agree to this sort of journalism suffered various forms of harassment.

Private media institutions (electronic, broadcast and print), which are also widely seen to be politicised in support of the UNP, continued to block the fundamental rights of journalists and media workers to form trade unions (the right of association and protection of the right of organising).

Clearly, though, there is a long way to go to achieve the conditions necessary for journalists to fulfil their democratic function. And journalists and media workers have the best hope for achieving this by acting collectively through strong, independent media associations that demand respect for independent journalism and give journalists a voice in negotiating proper training, a fairer legal environment and acceptable working conditions. Attacks to hurt, harass and silence journalists must no longer escape proper investigation and punishment as they so often have in the past.

5. Steps Forward

On the bright side, journalists continued to push the boundaries of freedom, navigating through the conflicts that have affected all nations and keeping their communities informed with news and thoughtful analysis.

a) South Asia Press Freedom Report

In September 2002 a coalition of journalists' unions and press freedom organisations, meeting under the umbrella of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Nepal, agreed to stand in solidarity and work together to rebuild public respect for the work of journalists and for an independent pluralist media.

Since then, this South Asia solidarity network, co-ordinated by the IFJ, has launched two reports on press freedom in South Asia with contributions from organizations across the region. The inaugural South Asia press freedom report, Pressing Times: Media under fire in South Asia was launched in May 2003, the second The Story Behind the News: Journalists and Press Freedom in South Asia was released on May 3, 2004 to coincide with World Press Freedom Day. These reports document and publicise violations of press freedom in the region and demand accountability from those responsible.

It is the duty of the state to provide an environment in which journalists are able to carry out their professional duties without fear of attack and intimidation of any kind. Attacks and intimidation of journalists foster a climate of fear that inhibits journalistic investigation and can promote self-censorship. It is hoped that the press freedom reports will contribute towards publicising injustice and ensuring that the culprits are made accountable.

b) International Institute for News Safety

A cause for optimism has been the setting up of the International News Safety Institute by the IFJ and the International Press Institute, supported by an unprecedented coalition of 80 media organisations, unions, press freedom groups and international organisations. This Institute launched on May 2 2003 supports measures to improve journalists' safety. While it may not be possible to stop all the killings, the Institute hopes to put safety of journalism where it belongs - at the top of the media and government agenda.

The working program of the Institute provides an information service covering all aspects of news safety. It includes an extensive program of risk-awareness training for media staff in poorer regions, where news gatherers are routinely under pressure but where economic and social conditions deny them access to basic safety services. The objectives of INSI are as follows:

  • Support and develop safety program for all news media workers on a global and local level
  • Encourage agreements on health and safety matters between employers and staff
  • Disseminate information through practical training, advisories and literature
  • Promote industry best practice for training, equipment and field work.
  • Investigate, develop and promote safety services including affordable insurance
  • Establish a global network of organisations committed to risk-reduction
  • Sponsor awareness-raising initiatives at media events

Ruthless criminality and political indifference often mean that little can be done to stop determined killers. But governments must be challenged. They must respect democratic rights, investigate and follow up every attack and be held accountable when there is official complacency, negligence or, as in some cases, official complicity in attacks on media.

c) Press Freedom Monitoring Committee, FNJ

The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) established a 24-hour telephone hotline for immediate information regarding the violation of press freedom. This has helped in monitoring of the local situation and building international pressure to highlight these violations and demand justice.

d) Journalism Prizes

(i)The IFJ Journalism for Tolerance Prize

The IFJ Journalism for Tolerance Prize for South Asia builds upon a decade of work within the IFJ to promote, sustain and develop a culture of tolerance within journalism. In the pursuit of the highest professional standards journalists need to be better informed, more aware of discrimination in all its forms and alert to reporting that may contribute to stereotypes or which may directly or indirectly reinforce prejudice and hatred.

The IFJ Journalism for Tolerance Prize, supported by the European Commission, recognises research and dedicated journalism that seeks out the truth and aims to defend the principles of fairness and independent journalism. It sets new standards for excellence in reporting discrimination in whatever form: gender, race, religion, caste, ethnicity, age or language.

Through the organisation of the prize in South Asia the IFJ has been able to strengthen unity and cooperation among journalists from different communities. Colleagues from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan joined the program and worked together to promote the Prize and its principles. Entries in English, Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, Sinhala and Tamil from major dailies, regional newspapers, magazines and websites represented a spectrum of views. In this way the very organisation of the prize assists its aims. The example set by the finalists and the prizewinners are concrete examples of how good journalism can make a world of difference in societies suffering intolerance. These stories set new benchmarks for excellence in reporting that combats the politics of division and hate, and promotes deeper understanding and harmony.

The Regional Forums held alongside the prize giving ceremonies were opportunities to discuss issues of relevance to the media in South Asia. In 2003 in New Delhi, the public debate was on the topic of "Tolerance and Press Freedom: Are they Peacetime Luxuries". This year, in Colombo, the discussion focussed on the theme "Tolerance and Diversity in the Media: Challenges for South Asia". Eminent journalists and human rights activists from South Asia were panellists at the forums.

(ii) The Natali Prize for Journalism: Excellence in Reporting Human Rights, Democracy and Development

The Natali Prize for Journalism: Excellence in Reporting Human Rights, Democracy and Development given by European Commission has been administered by the International Federation of Journalists. The Natali Prize has been awarded to journalists from the written press who have demonstrated a striking insight and particular dedication to the reporting of human rights issues within the context of the development process.

In 2003, the International Federation of Journalists awarded a Natali Prize in five regions: Europe; Africa; the Arab World, Iran and Israel; Asia and the Pacific; Latin America and the Caribbean.

e) Live News: Safety Guide and training

The IFJ has been campaigning for greater safety for journalists for 20 years and arranged the first ever safety courses for journalists who were not working for large media groups. The IFJ Code of Practice for the Safe Conduct of Journalism stresses the responsibility of media organisations to provide equipment, risk-awareness training, social protection and medical cover not only for staff members but also for freelances.

Since 2002, together with the Danish International Media Support group the IFJ has organised safety training for journalists in Nepal and Afghanistan and is hoping to offer training to Sri Lankan journalists working in the north-eastern provinces this year.

In April 2003 the IFJ launched its safety handbook, Live News: A survival guide for journalists. Drawing on the experience of those who have worked in hostile zones and the expertise of professional safety trainers, the book is designed as a practical guide for journalists who live and work in hazardous conditions and those who may be assigned to risky areas.

The IFJ has campaigned for many years for greater safety and for a focus on the in-country journalists and freelances who are at greatest risk and who have the least protection.

Recognising that safety is not just an issue when bullets start flying, the book also sets out to create a culture of risk awareness in all aspects of journalism.

One objective is to raise the awareness of journalists, journalists' organisations and media employers for the need for greater protection. It forms part of a general demand that those who own and run the news media take more responsibility for the safety of their journalists and for the welfare of their families. Greater legal protection for freelance journalists should be high on the agenda in all negotiations with employers.

Journalists have an individual responsibility to anticipate and reduce dangers, and a collective responsibility through their professional organisations and trade unions to campaign for safer working conditions.

The book will be adapted and translated into Sinhala and Tamil this year with other South Asian languages to follow.

f) Assistance for journalists reporting on conflict

Recognising the crucial role media play informing their communities in times of political transition and/or conflict and the importance placed on strengthening media professionalism for conflict reporting by affiliates, the IFJ has been working to develop resources and training to give journalists the skills and understanding they need to do this job properly.

In times where journalists find themselves under intense pressure, the traditional standards of professionalism require reinforcement and support. Accuracy, balance and context are critical in every story as the media can be particularly influential in conflict. Low standards can lead to media stoking the fires of conflict through a dangerous cocktail of rumour, lies, misinformation and fear.

However, it is also accepted that a well trained and resourced media can be central to reducing conflict. Explaining complex issues, using temperate language, being aware of the consequences of sensational and violent images help journalists to be professional.

The IFJ's Asia Pacific office has been able to build on the wealth of experience the IFJ has in working on conflict with journalists in other parts of the world for the last 15 years.

The IFJ's activities in South Asia are designed to support the professionalism of the media by developing resources and training and providing forums for the exchange of information, skills and experiences.

The IFJ is currently two thirds of the way through a project (funded by the United States Institute of Peace) in Sri Lanka, which has:

  • Conducted research among journalists and civil society on perceptions, attitudes and obstacles to good conflict reporting
  • Monitored the media in all three languages on coverage of conflict
  • Commissioned research into specific case studies
  • Researched and written a training course on conflict reporting in the Sri Lankan context.
  • Conducted a four day train the trainer course for journalists and civil society media activists in August 2004

In the next stages we will turn this material into a handbook and use the trained trainers to conduct six in-country workshops for journalists. These resources, particularly the training module, will be available for use by journalists in other parts of South Asia.

g) Meeting the challenge of reporting on child rights

Using the first international guidelines for journalists covering children's rights, developed by the IFJ from the experience of journalists from over 50 countries, the IFJ and its affiliates have been involved in a campaign to raise awareness among journalists of child rights generally as well as the consequences of our reporting.

Journalists from across South Asia joined their colleagues from other parts of Asia in June 2003 at a meeting in Bangkok where an ambitious program was developed to encourage journalists to consider their professional responsibilities in relation to the rights of children.

A number of resources and training programs have been developed to assist journalists as they approach the challenge of reporting on children, child rights and child exploitation.

The training package (available online at www.ifj-asia.org) takes journalists through the challenging professional questions that arise: How can we include the opinions of children in the media; interviewing children; what kind of images are suitable to use; how can we broaden our coverage of issues away from a narrow focus on specific incidents of abuse. Ten courses have been conducted using the module in Sri Lanka and India.

The IFJ's child rights website for Asia childrights.ifj-asia.org is a resource centre for journalists reporting on children and child rights and includes a media kit, contacts and resources from across Asia as well as listing a range of positive actions for children.
A handbook has been developed which As well as providing a commentary on the human rights of children and insights into the problem of child exploitation, looks at the principles behind journalist's guidelines and provides practical advice on how to tackle the challenging job of reporting on child protection and child rights.

Both the handbook and training module are available in Sinhala and Tamil and was also recently adapted for use in courses in Afghanistan.

Attachment 1

International Federation of Journalists/ Friedrich Ebert Foundation

Solidarity in the Newsroom:
Building Union Capacity for Human Rights
and Conflict Reporting in South Asia
September 22-24, 2002 Kathmandu


Representatives of journalists' trade unions, senior journalists and experts from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, having discussed the role of journalism in reporting conflict,

Recognising the critical situation facing journalists and media in South Asia,

Recognising the importance of strong and representative organisations of media professionals as vital partners in the creation of the conditions for independent journalism,

Believing that independent journalism and free media contribute to a culture of peace in which conflicts can be resolved without resorting to violence,

Supporting actions to strengthen independent journalism and the creation of a diverse and democratic media culture across the region,

Believing that free and professional media provide for democratic debate in society involving all groups,

Demanding that the South Asia governments and SAARC take action to remove all obstacles to media freedom, including repressive laws, and free distribution of media across national borders,

Insisting that all journalists must be guaranteed freedom of movement throughout the region in the exercise of their work,

Believing that assistance programmes to media and journalists' groups must be developed and carried out with the full involvement of the journalists' associations and trade unions,

Agree to the following framework and elements for an urgent programme of action and assistance to media:


  • To provide safety training for journalists in the region, through national courses, building on the models currently being developed by journalists' unions and safety training institutions through the IFJ safety programme,
  • To translate and adapt to local conditions and needs the basic safety booklets and training materials into major languages of the region and to distribute these materials to every newsroom;
  • To ensure that every newsroom has a basic safety kit which will be available for the use of journalists and news gatherers;
  • To demand that the issue of safety - as set out in the guidelines developed by the IFJ - is included in collective agreements.


  • To unify the profession through structural support and political recognition of the need for representative journalists' associations and trade unions which can play an instrumental role in formulation of media policy and development;
  • To establish the structures for cross-border co-operation and regional networks of media centres, training institutes and journalists' unions and associations, including through national and regional egroups;
  • To promote common standards of editorial independence and minimum editorial statutes in state-owned, public and private media in the region through initiatives of the IFJ and its member organisations;
  • To organise meetings for journalists' organisations and media in each country to promote co-operation and solidarity among media professionals;
  • To recognise outstanding journalism in the area of diversity and tolerance through an annual journalism award for journalists in the region;
  • To promote trade union development in each country and to seek minimum standards of social and professional conditions of service for journalists and to ensure that all journalists and media staff are adequately paid for their work;
  • To co-ordinate the production of annual country reports on press freedom and journalists' safety issues and the role of the Information Ministry, to be released as a South Asia report on May 3 each year;
  • To work for the establishment of independent and effective media councils;
  • To develop and strengthen independent systems of self-regulation under the jurisdiction of media professionals which can act as media observatories to monitor media performance paying particular attention to issues of diversity in the media and violations of press freedom.


  • To launch broadly-based campaigns supported by coalitions of groups within civil society and journalism in defence of media freedom (for instance: campaigning for freedom of information);
  • To develop joint initiatives of journalists' organisations and other groups in civil society in support of fundamental human rights;
  • To continue and expand professional training programmes covering conflict reporting and tolerance as developed by the IFJ, it's unions and other media interest groups which should also promote the values of citizenship and diversity in media;
  • To examine new ways and methods of working on the issue of journalism and conflict in order to widen the scope of reporting which will create new options for reporters and editors and ensure professional access to all relevant sources of information and interests involved;
  • To prepare a publication on journalism and conflict in South Asia and resources for trainers on this issue.


  • To insist that a comprehensive plan of action for the support and development of media and independent journalism in South Asia is included within the international programmes being developed for the region including the allocation of substantial funding to achieve these aims;
  • To provide a swift response to media in crisis through a fast-track process of support to media directly affected by violent conflict and social dislocation.
  • To hold a follow-up regional conference to review progress in the implementation of this programme of work at a national and regional level within two years.

Attachment 2

Organisation list
Building Union Capacity for Human Rights and Conflict Reporting in South Asia. Kathmandu, Nepal 26-28 September 2004

Afghan Independent Journalists' Union

Bangladesh Journalists' Rights Forum (BJRF)
Dhaka Reporters' Unity, Bangladesh
Media Watch, Bangladesh

All India Newspapers Employees' Federation (AINEF)
Indian Journalists' Union (IJU)
National Union of Journalists India (NUJI)

Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ)
National Union of Journalists Nepal (NUJN)
Nepal Press Union (NPU)

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)
Green Press, Pakistan
Pakistan Press Foundation

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions (FMETU)
Free Media Movement (FMM)

Christopher Warren, President, International Federation of Journalists
Jacqueline Park, Director, IFJ Asia-Pacific
Laxmi Murthy, South Asia Co-ordinator, New Delhi

Siddharth Varadarajan, Deputy Editor, The Hindu, India

Rory Peck Trust, United Kingdom
AMARC Asia-Pacific

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