Threats to Afghan journalists rise in 2013
KABUL (PAN): South Asia has not been a safe place for journalists in the year 2013 when violence against journalists continued to remain a major threat to media freedom, the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) said in its report released on Monday.
During the year, 22 journalists were killed, including three in Afghanistan, despite the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists and several international resolutions on their protection, the report said.
Pakistan again was the country with the largest number of journalists (10) killed in connection with their work, followed by India with 8, Afghanistan 3 and Bangladesh 1.
Except for a couple of killings having been taken up in the courts in Nepal, the culture of impunity -- the perpetrators of killings not being investigated or brought to justice -- seemed to have taken root.
Cases have been marred by delays, the deaths of witnesses, and threats to the plaintiffs in a bid to have them drop charges. Unpunished crimes are jeering at major democracies of the region and depriving their people of the right to information and so, fear is deeply entrenching in families of those killed and in societies.
The report said threats and violence forced a growing number of journalists to flee their homes or country.
A major section of media in South Asia, more so in India than in Pakistan, remained indulged in conflict insensitive journalism and in doing so, putting pressure on the governments to go for war rather than peace.
Other factors having a bearing on media freedom and quality journalism in the region were intolerance for diverse points of views as edicts and threats were hurled at the media.
In some of the smaller South Asian countries financial viability has always been a challenge. But even in the large countries, there have been huge layoffs unsettling the optimism of the last decade of rapid growth in the media and causing livelihood anxieties for journalists.
Layoffs and working conditions
Journalists still struggle for fair wages and decent working conditions. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal principally, established laws on the protection of living standards are being breached with little consequence. In other countries such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Afghanistan, the struggle is underway for securing protections under the law for the wages and working conditions of the media people.
Transparency in ownership and editorial functioning and accountability and credible modes of regulation came up as major issues.
Ban on YouTube
As a welcome development in June, Bangladesh lifted a ban on video-sharing site YouTube in place since September 2012 after an online anti-Islam movie spawned violent protests across the Muslim world.
The ban was hurting thousands of people who use YouTube for good purposes such as educational or research. But impeding the public right to freedom of expression and access to information, YouTube continued to remain blocked in Pakistan.
The SAMC calls on the governments of South Asia to address the issue of violence against the media by bringing perpetrators of past crimes to justice. Also, the media owners as well as journalists themselves will have to fight impunity as a fight of the people.
Afghanistan, despite having moved up 22 places to 128 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, 2013, saw a sharp increase in violence and threats against journalists by local officials, police and the Taliban.
Two journalists -- Mohammad Nasim Turak in the eastern Laghman province and Mohammad Hassin Hashemi in the northeastern Kapisa Valley -- and an Indian diarist -- Sushmita Banerjee in Sharan -- were killed in the war-ravaged country in 2013. As many as 23 journalists have been murdered during the past two decades in Afghanistan, but their killers - with the exception of two cases -continue to enjoy impunity.
At least two writers were forced to flee Afghanistan in 2013 after receiving death threats. The killings and death threats demonstrate the major challenges facing journalists and freedom of speech in Afghanistan and the urgency to find ways to provide journalists with protection.
Besides violence and threats against journalists in Afghanistan, there were calls by government officials for the censorship of certain news media.
The government’s attitude toward media was mixed and inconsistent, driven more by individuals than a broad or coherent policy. President Hamid Karzai agreed to a call by the country’s religious council to crack down on television stations, calling some of their programmes “immoral and un-Islamic.”
At another meeting between the president and the Ulema council of clerics in April, broadcasters were accused by the council of “promoting prostitution.”
The media faced increased financial challenges and growing restrictions with regards to access to information.
With more than 400 outlets now, Afghanistan’s media have grown rapidly in recent years. However, with the withdrawal of international troops in 2014 and the resultant decrease in funding, the Afghan media will need to become more self-sustaining through advertising or go for closure.
The report warned if the situation becomes chaotic, Afghans working for foreign and local media could become targets for retribution for their work as journalists.
Afghan authorities should respect freedom of expression and protect journalists. The presidential candidates should have the safety of journalists as one of their priorities.
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