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World Press Freedom Day 2009 events in Asia-Pacific

NUJP honours slain journalists in the Philippines at last year's wreath-laying ceremony
NUJP honours slain journalists in the Philippines at last year's wreath-laying ceremony

The Federation of Nepali Journalists with UNESCO Kathmandu is gearing up to host its South Asian neighbours to discuss their shared experiences at a regional conference in Kathmandu on 3-4 May. Three themes are on the table: media freedom, including security and impunity, how the media contributes to dialogue, and the role of the media in countries in transition. Participants from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are coming to the celebration, which will also honour three prominent Nepali journalists with the "Press Freedom Fighter" award. See: http://www.fnjnepal.org/

The International Federation of Journalists and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network will also be on hand to present their seventh annual South Asia press freedom report, "Under Fire: Press Freedom in South Asia 2008-2009". The report, available on 3 May, records a worrying decline in press freedom across the seven countries assessed - no surprises there, considering the tumultuous year the region's had: http://asiapacific.ifj.org/

Case in point: Pakistan. The Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) with UNESCO Islamabad is organising a 3 May conference to highlight the challenges to free expression in Pakistan during these unstable times. Prominent journalists will put chief guest, the former Minister of Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman, to the test. PPF will also announce the winner of its third Aslam Ali Award, worth 100,000 Rupees (US$1,300), which recognises a person or group that has made a notable contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom in Pakistan. See: http://www.pakistanpressfoundation.org/

It's no small feat that being the site of a continuing fierce political confrontation, Bangkok is playing host to two major events organised by IFEX members on 3 May at the Art and Culture Centre. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and UNESCO Bangkok join forces to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and media independence, especially during and after conflicts and crises. Speakers will talk about the post-conflict role of journalists after the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, President Suharto in Indonesia, and President Marcos in the Philippines. SEAPA and UNESCO will also present a website of banned materials of the region, which can be accessed from SEAPA's site in the coming days: http://www.seapabkk.org

At the same time, the Thai Journalists Association is organising a panel with a national focus, looking at the situation of media independence in Thailand, where "the government is walking a tight rope of political tension." See: http://www.tja.or.th/

Just this month, Indonesia's Supreme Court ruled in favour of "Time" magazine in a US$106-million defamation suit filed by former President Suharto for a story that accused him of amassing billions during his rule. So it's only fitting that this World Press Freedom Day, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), who campaigned tirelessly on the case, is tackling one of the biggest threats to press freedom in the country - criminal defamation - in an event at the Jakarta Media Centre on 6 May. Also look out for AJI's 2009 Press Freedom report, which will be unveiled at the event. See: http://www.ajiindonesia.org/

If you happen to be frequenting Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia between 15 April and 15 May, keep your eyes peeled for eye-catching banners and billboards that reference the Mongolia Constitution and Media Freedom Law as well as UNESCO's declarations on free expression. The signs, care of IFEX's member in Mongolia Globe International and UNESCO Beijing, are just one tactic in Globe's "For Fair and Responsible Journalism" campaign, aimed at raising public awareness of the importance of a free and independent media. The campaign also involves the "We want to tell the truth!" event on 30 April, where journalism students can take media leaders and politicians to task on Mongolia's censorship, media concentration and lack of self-regulation issues. For those who can't make it, Globe is also publishing its 2008 media freedom report, which will be made available on Globe's website: http://www.globeinter.org.mn/

"Building Courage under Fire": that's the apt title of a regional event in the Pacific being put on by Pacific Freedom Forum, UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, with support from IFEX, on 6-8 May in Apia, Samoa. The event was originally meant to take place in Suva, Fiji on 3 May, but Fiji's declaration of emergency rule and an ensuing clampdown on the media actually made holding the event illegal. Delegates from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu will descend on Apia to gather the latest info, skills and contacts to protect and promote media freedom in their home countries. See: http://www.pacificfreedomforum.blogspot.com/

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) in Australia knows that good food is the way to your wallet. That's why it's hosting its annual press freedom dinner on 1 May in Sydney, with all proceeds going to the Alliance Safety and Solidarity Fund, which assists journalists and their families across the dangerous Asia-Pacific region. Thanks to the fund, last year the children of a dozen journalists killed in Nepal during the country's decade-long civil war were able to go to school. Over dinner, MEAA will unveil "Secrecy and Red Tape: The State of Press Freedom in Australia 2009", an analysis of the successes and shortcomings of press freedom in Australia. It's available from 1 May here: http://www.alliance.org.au/documents/pf09.pdf

The Pacific Islands News Association is calling out for solidarity for their Fijian colleagues, "who have nothing left to celebrate because their freedoms have been forcefully curtailed by the ruling government": http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102817/

Last year, Bangladesh passed its first Right to Information Act, so this 3 May, ARTICLE 19 launched a handbook telling Bangladeshis how to use it. Read more about "Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the Right to Information Act" here: http://tinyurl.com/c8kyj3

Other activities:

- IFEX interim member the Centre for Independent Journalism in Malaysia is organising a public forum at Central Market in Kuala Lumpur on 10 May on "Media Under Najib: Hope or Disappointment?" What options does the Prime Minister have, vis-à-vis clamours for reform on one side and status quo on the other, and can he deliver? See: http://www.cijmalaysia.org/

- The Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists is expecting 200 participants at a seminar on 4 May where local journalists will discuss their challenges and the importance of free expression in a developing country. Contact: umsarin (@) hotmail.com

- The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) is once again organising a wreath-laying ceremony at Plaridel Shrine in San Nicolas, Bulakan on 3 May in memory of the 100 journalists who have been killed "since democracy was supposedly restored in 1986," says NUJP. Those planning on attending the ceremony should wear white. See: http://www.nujp.org/

- Who's more important to democracy, journalists or politicians? Three members from New Zealand's Parliament will mull over the question with three respected broadcasters on 4 May in Parliament. Proceeds of the debate, conducted by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, IFJ Asia-Pacific and the Parliamentary Press Gallery, will go to MEAA's Alliance Safety and Solidarity Fund. See: http://www.epmu.org.nz/

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