Thursday, December 31, 2009

Violence against media increased in 2009 : South Asia Media Commission

According to a report released on Tuesday, Pakistan topped the list of on-duty media persons’ deaths in South Asia, losing seven of 12 journalists in the conflict zones of eight South Asian states in 2009.

The figures were issued in a report prepared by the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC), indicating a worsened situation for the fourth pillar of the state.

The report stated that in Pakistan, “some zealots in the profession have used their new freedoms to scandalise and destabilise a fragile democracy, ignoring media norms quite frequently”. The report also points out that some leaders from the ruling party have lately opted to use threatening language against some journalists. The report underlines that there is a greater need now to have a shared discourse on media freedom. The year began with the detention of a journalist in a raid conducted by the Sindh Nationalist Front activists on January 3, 2009.

On January 4, Muhammad Imran, cameraman of a private TV channel and Saleem Tahir Awan, a freelance reporter, rushed to the site of a gas cylinder blast in Dera Ismail Khan only to be killed in a suicide attack along with seven others.

On January 24, Amir Wakeel, editor of a newspaper, was gunned down in Rawalpindi. Another TV channel’s employee Noor Hassan was abducted from Swat on February 8.

South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) Secretary General Imtiaz Alam was attacked with hockey sticks by four men when he was driving back home on February 18.

Another journalist Khawar Shafiq was abducted from Faisalabad by a state agency. Wasi Ahmed, a local journalist from Khuzdar, succumbed in Karachi after he was badly injured during an attack in his home district. Janullah Hashimzada, an Afghan journalist, was shot down in Khyber Agency on August 24.

The report said two journalists were killed in Afghanistan, one each in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka and seven in Pakistan.

Risky coverage: The report noted that the state authorities in these countries had failed to bring the murderers to justice. It also found that the on-going conflict in the frontier regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the surge of terrorism had brought tremendous pressure on journalists and reporting the truth had become “a hazardous affair”.

Poor handling: The report particularly noted that in most countries of the region, the regulatory environment had remained ill-defined, especially for the electronic media. “Newly emerging electronic media outlets employ no ethical and professional restraint on their conduct and standards fell with the induction of a non-professional breed of embedded amateurs.” The 180-page report throws light on country-wise events involving high-risk duties, casualties, threats and intimidations in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives. About India, the report said that despite its long and well-established journalistic traditions, it remained seized with debates on ethics of news coverage in the print and electronic media, as the tendency to sell news space for trivia grew in the country’s boom.

Concerning Sri Lanka, it said journalists there have suffered the worst adversities of the lot, considerably more serious than the travails of their counterparts in Pakistan. The daylight murder of one of the country’s best-known editors, Lasantha Wickrematunga; the abduction-style arrest of N Vithyatharan and the 20-year jail term for JS Tissainayagam on charges of ‘terrorism’ represent a new low for the country.

The report on Nepal noted the environment for journalism there has deteriorated and the new rulers have provided no reward to the media for spearheading the movement against the monarchial rule and the restoration of democracy in 2006. In Afghanistan, the report found that the situation for journalism remains seriously muddied. “ [The] media has become an arena where armed groups contest fiercely for political space and the tussle took its toll, killing two journalists in 2009,” it said.

About Bangladesh, the report underlines that media has been facing the pangs of transition, which Bangladesh went through for the return to the democratic era. It noted that legislative work on media issues is needed there. The report stresses the need for fostering a responsible media culture while keeping professional and ethical standards above political agenda.

Speaking on the occasion, Imtiaz Alam said it is a pleasant and unique occasion that there is no authoritarian regime left in South Asia. However, he showed apprehensions that democracy in many countries of the region, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, faced serious threats and dangers.

Alam said that Pakistan currently faces the serious issue of nation-centric chauvinism, which is a cause of lack of resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue. He said that after the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani media went into a self-denial mood and the Indian media got involved in war mongering. He said the media in Pakistan should play its positive role and keep in mind that the country’s fragile democracy could not bear any blows.

Free Media Association President Munnu Bhai declared that the report should be published in Urdu as well. Senior journalist Arif Nizami stressed the need for monitoring and taking care of the families of journalists who got killed in the line of duty.

© Daily Times

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