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"The Campaign for Justice": Press freedom in South Asia 2013-14

A man holds a picture of Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad of Agence France-Presse, during his funeral ceremony in Kabul, 23 March 2014
A man holds a picture of Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad of Agence France-Presse, during his funeral ceremony in Kabul, 23 March 2014

REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

On 4 May 2014, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched the twelfth annual press freedom report for South Asia, 'The Campaign for Justice', together with UNESCO as part of its activities marking World Press Freedom Day 2014.

Produced in partnership with IFJ affiliates in the region and members of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN), the report provides an annual report card on the situation of press freedom, media rights and other development relevant to media in South Asia.

The 2014 report also highlights two pressing issues of concern, impunity over crimes against journalists and gender equity for the growing number of women journalists working in the region. The report is a key campaign tool for the IFJ and its affiliates to improve the safety and security of journalists and ensure balanced as well as safe participation of women in journalism in the region.

"South Asia remains one of the most dangerous regions in the world for journalists to operate in and impunity is rife. We must continue to campaign for media workers to ensure governments observe their rightful obligation in ensuring their safety and security and that justice is swiftly delivered on journalist attacks," IFJ Asia-Pacific acting director, Jane Worthington said.

"Sadly, the region carries the mantle for a near perfect record on impunity. This must be brought to an end and the IFJ believes that governments which take the security of journalists seriously should be supported in that endeavour."

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the targeted killings of journalists and fatal attacks have remained disturbingly high over the year in review (May 2013 to April 2014) making them the frontline states in the world. The internal conflicts and states' security agencies' often-hostile treatment of journalists have presented serious challenges for independent journalism. Those journalists brave enough to operate professionally in such situation are targeted, with a blanket of impunity for violent acts compounding the problems of media. The IFJ's repeated call on the Pakistani government to improve the security situation for journalists have gone unheard and the situation has only deteriorated in the beginning of 2014.

In Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bangladesh, the state's attempt to silence critical media continued in different ways. In Sri Lanka, the government arbitrarily detained and questioned rights activists and journalists while also trying to control grips over media by introducing vaguely worded code of conduct and issuing orders to human rights activists to remain silent. In the Maldives, the state remained indifferent to attacks on critical media and in Bangladesh, the government continued to use the legal provisions to restrict journalists and bloggers to speak up on trials of the war crimes. A Bangladeshi editor has been jailed for a year on allegations of serious crimes of sedition, and breach of state secrets, but he is yet to be formally charged.

In India, the pivotal country of the South Asian region, the year has been one of mounting uncertainty. An economic downturn has interrupted the phase of rapid growth and unbound optimism that began in 2004. Several new media ventures have been scrapped and staff from existing and established media companies has been thinned down in a process of attrition. The continuation of harsh incidents on female journalists in India has been an issue of concern as yet another female journalist was gang raped while on field reporting. The difficulties for journalists in the conflict areas of India remain unchanged.

The IFJ said journalists in the region continue to operate in harsh situations and their struggle for securing the payment of fair wages and working conditions continues, however, there were also some significant achievements and victories.

Journalists in South Asia made several important breakthroughs. Significant achievements were recorded in terms of the legal recognition of their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and decent wages and working conditions.

India's journalists' unions scored a significant triumph in February 2014 when the Supreme Court ruled, in a petition brought by some of the country's biggest newspaper publishers, that the legislative protection afforded for their wages and working conditions was perfectly in order and consistent with constitutional guarantees on fundamental rights.

"This will bring an end to a long campaign of stonewalling by India's newspaper publishers to deny journalists and other workers the benefits of new wage," the IFJ said.

In Pakistan, a landmark case resulted in the handing down of the country's first successful prosecution over the killing of a Pakistani journalist. The Anti-Terrorist Court based in Karachi on March 2014 handed down life sentences to four of the killers involved in the high-profile murder of Wali Khan Babar of Geo TV. Khan Babar was gunned down on his way home in Karachi in January 2011.

The significance of the judgement is that it marks only the second time in Pakistan's history that the murderers of a journalist have been brought to justice. The first was American journalist Daniel Pearl's killer, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, in 2002.

The annual press freedom report for South Asia, "The Campaign for Justice", seeks to outline the situations and successes so as to help the journalists unions of the region achieve significant progress in ensuring press freedom for independent journalism by sharing knowledge and experiences within themselves.

Download the report.
south_asia_report_ifj.pdf (2816 KB)

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