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Brief Report of IFJ-FES Workshop Building Union Capacity for Human Rights and Conflict Reporting in South Asia

South Asia Media Solidarity Network Background Paper

Organised by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

5-7 September, Kathmandu


Introduction

South Asia is one of the most conflict-prone regions of the world. The manifestation of South Asian conflicts along various lines, such as interstate strife, ideological tensions, democratic deficits causing poor performance of governance, distributional struggle of the victims of society, tradition of multiple authority causing legitimacy crisis, identity conflicts stemming from the narratives of positional and perceptual differences of actors, sub-national conflicts hovering around the reinvention of social boundaries for national self-determination and transformation of the rule of unwritten transcript of society into constitutional democracy, etc impinge on the intra-state and inter-state ties.

Competing frames of reference of regional governments-- self-images, interests, capabilities, ideologies and identities-- have distorted a common awareness of its great potential and opportunities and sown seeds of lasting discord and conflicts. Reporting about the nexus of these complex conflicts is not without risks to the life and profession of media persons. The image of conflict zone evokes a spiral of fear resulting into self-censorship of media persons. Already 60 journalists of the region are in exile. Dispelling this fear requires the revision of contesting frames, an improvement in human rights conditions, capacity building of media workers and their unions and restoring their public roles in political engagement and social critique. Fair reporting about human rights conditions establishes people' right to information, sensitizes the public about the cost of conflict and benefits of peace and stimulates their work on durable peace. The construction of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) seeks to foster the concept of general will, the welfare of the whole and resolve conflict through the promotion of common good. But a lack of associative thought and corresponding conflict-sensitive socialization has negated the contribution of regional cooperation to desired level of peace. In this context, the establishment of South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) can be expected to revitalize the social energy of peoples for cooperative action.

In this context, the ability of South Asian media persons to understand the accurate 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 reducing the dimension of violence and augmenting the necessary social capital and political will for cooperation. In conflict and post-conflict peace building phase, their roles rest on connecting the fabric of society shattered by conflict, minimize the ferocity of violence by means of providing conflict prevention, early warning of new conflict potential and action, familiarizing the provisions of peace accords, securing justice to the victims, enforcing the accountability of human rights violators, keeping the citizens in a constant state of alertness, protecting media persons working in conflict zones, achieving gender equity in news and broadening the base of coalition of media associations. 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 transformation. The South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) has been established by the IFJ with the support of FES five years back.

Objectives

  • the capacity-building of regional journalists and their networks for media rights monitoring and networking in the region;
  • assess the action plan of last two years 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 intimidation of the state and non-state actors.

Participants and Resource Persons

The participants came from Afghanistan (2), Bangladesh (1), Bhutan (2), India (5), Nepal (7) Maldives (1), Pakistan (3), and Sri Lanka (7). Among them female journalists were four. The resource persons were Jacqui Park and Sukumar Muralidharan from the International Federation of Journalists, Dev Raj Dahal (FES-Nepal), and Sunanda Deshpriya from Switzerland. This is the seventh workshop of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). It is an organization of journalists and media workers having numerous affiliates in the region. This time Maldives also attended.
Contents and Methodology

The workshop began with the introduction of participants and resource persons, program highlights and networks and campaigns for press freedom, safety and democratic media, Mumbai attacks and media, country reports and discussion, conflict and human rights of regional countries, case study presentation of Sri Lanka, journalists working in conflict zones, media rights and press freedom organizing strategies for stronger union in the region, gender campaign, strategic planning for union strength, campaign for safety and press freedom and discussion of the priorities and actions for solidarity building. The training methodology was participatory. It involved lecture presentation, group work presentation, sharing of experiences, slide presentation, etc. There was open exchange of ideas and opinions.

Outcome

It energized the participants due to the participation of new media network of Bangladesh and entry of the Maldives. The three-day program evaluated the media missions IFJ took in Kashmir and Chhatisgargh in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and training in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It decided to write about the profile of exiled journalists, monitor human rights violations, conduct research, publish studies, strengthen the solidarity network and carry activities and missions in conflict zones. For the livelihood of exiled journalists and their family members it decided to create fund from the contribution of unions. It has also issued a statement of the South Asian Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) entitled "Stop the war against Journalism in Sri Lanka" and expressed its commitment to the charter of the SAMSN. A SAMSN Action Plan has been drafted under its Charter which stipulates, inter alia, a fair workplace, human rights, diversity and editorial independence, protect journalists under pressure and strengthen solidarity of the unions for collective action. The participants expressed commitment to create South Asian order democratic and representative through free media institutions, develop professional media culture based on public interest, work to establish people's right to know, use of media freedom as a mechanism for conflict resolution, provide the journalists conditions of safety and security, including the right freedom of association and collective bargain for wages and appropriate working conditions. The workshop added new skills, ideas and zeal.

 
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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