Union Capacity for Human Rights and Conflict Reporting
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
- Monitored the media in all three languages
on coverage of conflict
- Commissioned research into specific case
- 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
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
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
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.
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
PLAN OF ACTION FOR JOURNALISTS'
ORGANISATIONS AND TRADE UNIONS IN SOUTH ASIA
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
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
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
1. IMPROVING SAFETY OF JOURNALISTS
- 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.
2. IMPROVING WORKING CONDITIONS
FOR JOURNALISTIC INDEPENDENCE AND PROFESSIONAL SOLIDARITY
- 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.
3. BUILDING AWARENESS OF HUMAN RIGHTS,
DIVERSITY AND CONFLICT REPORTING ISSUES AMONG
- 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
- To prepare a publication on journalism
and conflict in South Asia and resources for trainers on this
4. ASSISTANCE PROGRAMMES and FOLLOW-UP
- 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.
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 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