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World Press Freedom Day Observed in South Asia

Radio Program on Freedom of Press in South Asia

03 May, Kathmandu: South Asian journalists face enormous challenges in the line of duty all across the region. There is a fearsome environment with the growing hostilities against them. Incidents of threats, attacks, assault and killings have been increasing at the hands of religious fanatics, armed political groups, criminal gangs, street mobs, government bodies. In this edition, we will discuss with journalists from across the region about the state of media in their countries. Nepali journalist Binod Bhattarai moderates this session in Kathmandu. Participants include journalists Milind Kokje, coordinator of Asia Media Forum, Shehryar Mohsin Warraich, reporter of Geo TV in Pakistan and Khairuzzaman Kamal, news editor of Focus Bangla News. To listen the radio program, just click the link http://www.panosradiosouthasia.org/index. php (Source: Panos Radio South Asia)

President Inaugurated the Press Freedom Conference in Nepal

03 May, Kathmandu: On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Honorable President of Nepal Dr Ram Baran Yadav today undescored the importance of free press for democracy to flourish.

Inaugurating a function on FREEDOM OF PRESS IN SOUTH ASIA: OLD CHALLENGES, NEW MEDIA Conference organised by Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Panos South Asia and UNESCO, President Yadav said, "Democracy can be safeguarded and strengthened through independent and responsible media. Hence journalists should be able to work in an environment free from fear and pressure and harassment."

Claiming that the political transition has not always been media-friendly, he emphasized on the need to protect journalists from the attack of criminal groups.

Speaking at the program, CPN-UML Chairman, Jhala Nath Khanal, said democracy and pres freedom would be rewarded only of the task of leading the peace process to a logical end, restructuring of the new constitution of Nepal were completed on time.

Richard Bennet, representative of the UNHRC Nepal, expressed his serious concern over the ongoing killing of Nepali journalists at a time when the conflict has already ended. He said press freedom would bring sustainable peace and stability in the nation. 

Ms. Iskra Panevska, Advisor of Communication and Information Section for South Asia of UNESCO also addressed in the same occasion as special guest. 

Before Inaugurating the function, leading journalists of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka as well as official of Panso South Asia and UNESCO took part in a colorful rally that will brought out in the down site of Kathmandu city.

South Asian journalists commemorate World Press Freedom Day 2009

03 May, 2009 (Kathmandu): UNESCO, jointly with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), convened a regional conference in Kathmandu (Nepal) on 3 and 4 May to observe World Press Freedom Day. Participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka focused on this year’s theme “The Potential of Media in Fostering Dialogue, Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation”.

More than 150 media practitioners from Nepal and other countries of the South Asian region attended the inauguration ceremony, which was opened by Nepal's President, Ram Baran Yadav. Following the screening of a video on the visit of the International Media Mission (IMM) to Nepal in February 2009, during which UNESCO along with other members of the mission expressed deep concern over the deterioration of press freedom in Nepal, the President officially launched the report A call to end violence and impunity, prepared by IMM.

During the discussions and the experience-sharing sessions, South Asian journalists showcased three specific themes of common interest and concern:

  • the limits to press freedom in South Asia,

  • the potential of media in fostering dialogue, and

  • the role of media in empowering citizens in countries in transition.

The participants also addressed issues such as: access to reliable information; providing accurate and unbiased information to citizens; media as a platform for public debate and interaction between civil society and policy-makers. Particular attention was given to how media in South Asia deals with stereotypes and prejudices, religion and democracy, and tolerance and freedom of opinion.

The International Federation of Journalists and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network presented their seventh annual South Asia Press Freedom Report, Under Fire: Press Freedom in South Asia 2008-2009. The report reveals a worrying decline in press freedom across the seven countries assessed (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

In the Declaration on Media Freedom in South Asia, adopted at the closing session, participants emphasized the importance of their solidarity in facing common interests and common media challenges. They stressed the importance of World Press Freedom Day as an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Conference on Old Challenges, New Media successfully concluded in Nepal

Kathmandu was abuzz as journalists from Asia began arriving in Nepal's capital for a conference on ‘Old Challenges, New Media’ organised by Panos South Asia on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day on May 3. The political situation in Nepal was changing by the hour and fellow Nepali journalists dived in and out of the conference, tracking the developments on Maoists and the government and contributing to the conference proceedings at the same time. In fact, the situation of Nepali journalists exemplified many of the issues thrown up for debate.

Journalists in Nepal have been active and in the forefront of protecting democratic values of this country and have paid a price for it, being beaten, arrested, harassed and also killed for doing their jobs. The conference began with a tribute to Uma Singh, the brave Nepali journalist hacked to death with a machete. The tribute came from veteran journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, who himself has borne the brunt at the hands of the authorities for his brand of outspoken journalism. Dixit pointed out that there were more journalists dying in South Asia than anywhere else. Not content with pointing fingers, however, he asked journalists to look at themselves and question whether they were indeed doing all they could. A culture of self censorship had crept in even when there was no pressure, he said, criticising the “growing culture of silence”.

Dixit also paid tribute to Lasantha Wickrematunge, the courageous Sri Lankan editor gunned down in January this year for his refusal to be silenced, even while prophesying his own death at the hands of his own government. In fact, the Kathmandu conference saw the presence of several Sri Lankan journalists who have been in self-imposed exile. The growing dangers of working in Sri Lanka were eloquently portrayed by Wickrematunge’s colleague, Dilrukshi Handunneti who emphasised that Sri Lanka was going through a war without witnesses. Handunneti herself continues to report from Sri Lanka.

The difficulties of journalists within the mainstream media sharply brought into focus the possibilities as well as challenges of new media and its emergence as a platform for alternative journalism. Nepal has provided an example of how new media could emerge as an alternative space. Blogs, SMS and Twitter had shown a quantum leap when the more traditional media like newspapers, TV channels and radio stations faced censorship. Waqar Mustafa from Pakistan explained how non-traditional communication means were used in Pakistan not just for political mobilisation but also political participation as those who could not participate actively used virtual means to extend their support to the political movement against military rule.

Asia Media Forum coordinator Milind Kokje demonstrated how the use of new media was eroding geographical barriers as well as limitations imposed by censorship. It was more difficult for authoritarian regimes to track and shut down blogspots, for example, which could be set up easily and were more difficult to locate than physical sites were traditional media were based.

K. Kabilan from Malaysia provided a case study of Malaysiakini, a news website which he and his friends set up out of disgust with the censorship of traditional media. Not only did Malaysiakini expand the space for alternative journalism, it has also turned commercially viable, though not without years of struggle.

A remarkable aspect of the Kathmandu conference was the interaction of many journalists and media practitioners who are engaged in trying to expand the boundaries of journalism using new media – with varying degrees of success. Participants exchanged notes with each other. “How did you get people to subscribe? How do you transmit your radio material? What do you have to pay to your reporters? What is the licensing procedure in your country?’ Questions flowed quick and fast in a lively discussion as best practices were shared and exchanged. It was not all celebratory, however, but was balanced with a good dose of realism, raising as many questions as it answered.

New media could expand frontiers but face its own limitations in many countries with limited Internet access and power supply. There were questions on how the increasing use of citizens as journalists needed to be tested against the principles of fairness and accuracy. There were questions on the financial sustainability of the models of new media. Was new media really democratic? What protection was available to journalists working single-handedly or in small groups without the backing of organisations? What about the misuse of cyberspace for hate propaganda? How could one retain the interest of the consumer in an age of information overload? The regional deputy director of Panos and country representative Kishor Pradhan summed up the complexities of the issues very well. New media and new forms of expression offered some hope for the future, but its efficacy depended on its utilisation. New media was not a panacea for all problems afflicting traditional media, he said, but an effective tool that could be used. (By Aunohita Mojumdar,

UNESCO awards for Journalists

03 May, 2009 (Dhaka) Three out of the five journalists who received the “Unesco-Bangladesh Journalism Awards 2009” for investigative journalism are from The Daily Star.

The Daily Star bagged two awards in the print media category while Channel-i and Bangla Vision won one each in the broadcast media category.

“Journalists are contributing to the society through investigative journalism,” Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad said while addressing the award giving ceremony yesterday morning.

"Investigative journalism is a must to establish accountability and transparency in a country. And it is investigative journalism that helps check corruption," he said.

The Unesco-Bangladesh Journalism Awards 2009 were given away at a simple ceremony jointly organised by the High Commission of Canada and Unesco Bangladesh. The ceremony was held at the Cirdap auditorium to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.

Minister Abul Kalam Azad handed over the prizes of Tk 50,000, a crest and a certificate to each of the five winning journalists. In his speech the minister touched on the tremendous problems and limitations -- including financial problems -- faced by journalists in their professional practices. He assured everyone of the government's assistance to promote the specialised faculty of journalism.

Expressing the government's pledge to ensure free press in the country, Abul Kalam also sought assistance from media in influencing and monitoring the government to realise vision 2021 of the present government.

The High Commissioner of Canada Robert McDougall said, “This award not only recognises the professional excellence of the candidates, but also acknowledges outstanding investigative reporting for its intrinsic merit and for its potential to bring about constructive change.” “You journalists shape what Bangladeshis see, read, hear, think and believe. This is a tremendous responsibility and a great power -- this ability to inform and educate,” McDougall added. “Quality journalism has made major contribution to countries around the world and particularly to the growth of democracy and freedom,” he added.

The award recipients are Julfikar Ali Manik, Syed Ashfaqul Haque and Mahbuba Zannat from The Daily Star, Sharmin Rinvi from Bangla Vision and Shykh Shiraj from Channel-i.

The organisers also gave out four honorary awards to Irene Neazi Manna of The Daily Samokal, Sharifuzzaman Pintu of The Daily Prothom Alo, Sultana Rahman of Ntv and Keramat Ullah Biplab of Channel-1. 

World Press Freedom Day Observed in Bangladesh

03 May, 2009 (Dhaka): Though there were no reports of killings of journalists, series of threats, coercion, intimidation and aggression on them in the last year have become all too common, revealed a report at a programme in the city yesterday.

The report titled 'Security of journalists and restrictions on collecting information in journalism 2008' was launched at the National Press Club in observance of World Press Freedom Day.

It mentioned that environment for journalists of the news media remains risky and hostile.

Media research organisation Mass-line Media Centre (MMC) and international human rights organisation ARTICLE 19 jointly published the report at the programme 'Article 19 Book Launch and Grassroots Women Journalists Awards 2009'.

Presenting the key findings of the report, MMC Executive Director Kamrul Hasan Monju said, “People do not realise that journalists across the country are involved in bringing to light the truth risking their lives.”

The study based on interviews of journalists in six divisions and newspaper reports showed that 166 journalists were abused, 26 faced lawsuits and 21 were injured while they were on duty, another 82 faced security threats, 40 were subjected to physical aggression, 32 faced death threats and 11 journalists were sent to prison during the period from January to December 2008.

The journalists fell prey to people with political muscle or back-up, power brokers, law enforcers, religious groups and extremists, terrorists, teachers and even national-level sportsperson, it said.

Head of News of ATN Bangla Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul said, “The mental torture the journalists had to face during the state of emergency was beyond description. While the report conveys some rather unsettling and nearly accurate results, it is only a part of the whole picture.”

A book titled 'Proshnottore Tathya Adhikar Ain', an east to read commentary on the recently passed Right to Information (RTI) Act 2009, published by ARTICLE 19 was also launched at the function.

State Minister for Law Qamrul Islam as the chief guest inaugurated the book featuring the RTI act in the simplified question and answer format for the convenience of general readers.

“The right to information is everybody's right. But a lot of people do not even know that there is such a law,” the state minister said, adding, “The book is an informative publication which will give the general people a clearer and broader idea on their right to information.”

“The RTI act like other laws is written in very formal way using a glossary of legal terms that the general people may not comprehend. This book will remove that problem to some extent,” said Prof Asif Nazrul of Dhaka University.

To mark the day, Article 19, the global campaign for free expression, a total of 12 promising female journalists from grassroots level were awarded a special fellowship for outstanding performance in journalists.

Presiding over the programme, noted human rights activist Dr Hameeda Hossain said, “Journalism is undoubtedly a very risky and perilous profession, especially for women. Things are even worse for the female journalists working in the remote areas as they enjoy little exposure or support in exchange for putting their lives at risk every day.”

She handed out the fellowship certificates and crests to the awardees.

“They deserve a lot of support simply for picking such a dangerous profession and this fellowship us certainly a positive step in that regard,” she added.

Dr Akram Hossain MP and Country Director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh champed Tahmina Rahman also spoke at the programme.

Meanwhile, the speakers at separate discussions said free flow of information is the precondition for development. Access to information facilitates the movement of rural people to realise their rights.

They also said free flow of information also promotes empowerment and compels policy-makers to be accountable to general people.

The speakers said this while addressing separate discussions at five districts organised by Campaign for Good Governance to mark the World Press Freedom Day yesterday, says a press release.

Colourful processions, human chains and cultural programmes were also held in the districts -- Satkhira, Pabna, Bogra, Jhenaidah and Comilla.

Speakers also said freedom of press is yet to be established in many countries like Bangladesh.

Terming such repression violations of human rights, they said these activities create a bar to free flow of information and institutionalise democracy as well as establish good governance.

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