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Report of the Workshop on Building Union Capacity for Human Rights and Conflict Reporting in South Asia

Organized by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

4-6 September 2008, Kathmandu, Nepal


Background

The unmet basic needs of bulk of citizens and lingering fear and violence in South Asia indicate that human rights struggle of media persons for freedom, justice and social opportunities remain unfinished. All the countries of South Asia are in the various stages of political transition towards democracy and due to the lack of political stability of regime of many countries journalists have to face problems from both the state and non-state actors. Only a healthy state of constitutional democracy and human security can provide South Asian citizens autonomous power to deliberate and act beyond structural constraints. In this context, the press, civic society and leadership in public power have to work to minimize the ferocity of violence by means of enforcing the accountability of human rights violators and keeping the citizens in a constant state of vigilance.

Violence shuts up the voice of voiceless and enforces a culture of silence and resignation. Conflict-sensitive media, rooted into public sphere, can awaken the public to their duty and bridge the gap between power and justice. They enhance the wider awareness and informed participation of citizens in public affairs. Free, fair and diverse media thus establish the access of public to information, socialize them on conflict consciousness and transform a number of contesting mini-identities of people into meta- identities, citizens and human beings. The socializing power of media helps to create a just state where institutions and laws are well-constituted to regulate citizens' hopes and conflict in the equal interest of all.

The ability of South Asia media to understand structural condition of the region, the root causes of conflict from varied perspectives, reflection on conflict experience, analysis of the conduct of numerous actors of society in conflict and peace and presenting those in an impartial manner to the wider public can play a very important role in reconstructing the condition of structural injustice. Conflict-sensitive media rooted in the principles of human rights, social justice and peace can increase the possibility of non-violent communication, build confidence between the conflict actors and provide common ground for conflict resolution. Responsible journalists can play the role of a watchdog by taking a critical look at the various sides of the conflict including the hidden ones and generate public opinion and action to liberate citizens from the blind obedience to the dictate of fear.

This is the sixth workshop of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) established by the IFJ with the support and cooperation of FES. It is an organization of journalists and media workers having numerous affiliates in the region.

Objectives of the Workshop

  • the capacity-building of journalists for media rights monitoring and networking in the region;
  • assess the action plan of 2007 by reflecting on successes and setbacks;
  • plan actions for joint strategies to combat violence and attacks on independent media; and
  • devise suitable strategies to defend press freedom collectively from the coercion of the state and non-state actors.

Participants and the Trainers

There were altogether 15 participants from Bangladesh (1), Bhutan (1), India (5), Nepal (3), Pakistan (2) and Sri Lanka (3) including 3 women. There were five resource persons from Australia (1), India (2), Sri Lanka (1) and Nepal (2) including two women. Three resource persons were from IFJ and two from outside. Participant from Afghanistan could not attend.

Contents and Methodology

The workshop began with the introduction of participants and resource persons and program highlights. The contents involved network and campaigns for press freedom, safety and democratic media, the challenge of media in South Asia, country presentation on conflict and human rights, gender equity and media and strategies to achieve gender equity in unions and media, press freedom and media rights, human rights and media, journalists working in conflict zones, future strategies especially in the areas of campaigns for independent journalism and democratic media environment, building impact of SAMSN regional network, strengthening trade unions and solidarity in the region, joint actions, etc. The training methodology involved lecture presentation, group work presentation, sharing of experiences, slide presentation, etc. There was open exchange of ideas.

Outcome

IFJ affiliated unions agreed to broaden their network alliance and work for the capacity building of unions engaged in human rights and conflict reporting. They also agreed to fight for increased access to information, safety and security conditions of journalists, strong networking with media related organizations, lobby for professional rights of journalists, rights to form unions, limit the use of free-lancing and causal works, guarantee non-discrimination between gender, editorial autonomy against commercials, government and political parties, media pluralism, social dialogue according to prevailing labor laws, support to journalists under difficult times and share experience of the successes. The SAMSN agreed to work on priority areas and present their plans to IFJ soon. The participants expressed SAMSN's concerns about the safety of journalists and media workers and restrictions on the media in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and called on state authorities to respect and honor the principles of a free media and to be fully transparent in dealing with all incidents of violence targeting media.

They also agreed to prepare a detailed report about Kashmir under the aegis of SAMSN identifying practical solution to protect journalists and organize a media mission. A significant achievement of the program was that the representatives from six countries agreed on The Charter for a Democratic and Pluralist Media Culture and Social and Professional Rights for Media and Journalism in South Asia to promote fair, balanced and independent media dedicated to editorial independence, diversity in the media, public service values in journalism and social dialogue. It also incorporates a plan of action for defending the rights of journalists and media and striving for decent working conditions. The IFJ also utilized this occasion to organize Train-the-Trainer workshop to the members of Nepalese Federation of Journalists.

 
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