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IFJ releases report on collective action for press freedom in South Asia

(IFJ/IFEX) - December 1, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today released a report titled Freedom in Solidarity: Media Working for Peace in South Asia, which presents the results of an 18-month process working with affiliates to assess capacity to respond collectively in crises involving media freedom.

The report presents the outcome of this process of evaluation of past efforts in the defence of press freedom in situations of conflict in five countries of South Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Situations analysed cover the wide range of conflict situations encountered by media practitioners in these countries and their efforts to collectively work to establish an environment conducive to free reporting.

Both successes and failures are evaluated to arrive at an understanding of the essential ingredients of a credible and effective collective response to media freedom challenges.

The report makes the case for journalists' unions and organisations to operate in concert with wider civil society actors to pursue an effective mode of international networking. Sharing experiences across diverse areas can often energise local struggles in the vast sub-continent. Unions that have strong institutional structures, invest in capacity building and operate transparently have greater success in all these respects.

Media law remains an area where rapid changes are underway in these countries and one where unions need to remain firmly engaged. There is an unspoken truth in these countries that underground groups and criminal gangs often have a voice in the media through the fear they foster. No better defence exists against these threats than unity in a professional cause and adherence to a declared code of conduct by journalists.

South Asia's media professionals need to participate in a debate over the transfer of resources built up by state-controlled broadcasters to public control. This would be an essential part of a debate, which is long overdue, on public service journalism and its core values.

Often, the links between unions in the national capitals and the more remote areas in the South Asian countries, where the challenges facing journalists are especially acute, are tenuous and weak. These need to be strengthened since the challenges to the exercise of the free speech right in distant areas will not gain traction and become issues of wide public concern till they are adopted by unions in national capitals and the metropolitan centres.

Journalists' unions need to live up to their conventional role in delivering improved pay and working conditions. Current approaches to this vital issue, especially in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, which have institutionalised processes of wage determination through statutory wage boards, need to be reassessed and a campaign developed to shift employers' attitudes towards staff.

Unions should consider creating a representative structure of young journalists and women, to deepen the participatory character of the responses to ongoing challenges. The involvement of women and the younger professionals would be a crucial investment in the future of media freedom in all these countries.

All activities going into the report were conducted with the financial support of the United States Institute of Peace.

Click below to download the entire report:
freedom-in-solidarity.pdf (1578 KB)

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