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IFJ/FES Workshop Report on South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN)
Local Struggles, Regional Solutions
Networking and Capacity Building in South Asia

Organised by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

July 29-31, 2011, Kathmandu


Introduction

The South Asian conflicts are systemic while the approaches to their resolution are linear. Unawareness of systemic connection makes conflict inevitable. All the countries of South Asia are facing various stages of social, economic and political transition towards participatory democracy. Due to political instability of regimes in many countries and weak law-enforcement, journalists face risks to their life, liberty and profession from both the state and non-state armed actors. Many South Asian states uneasily coexist with non-state armed groups, war lords, militant criminals and rebels. Their troubled coexistence reflects the erosion of state's legitimate monopoly on power, declining outreach of states in societies, intra-state conflicts and democracy-free zones. The ability of states to provide human security can only enable South Asian media and citizens autonomous power to deliberate and act beyond structural constraints and looming fear of violence. A vibrant democratic media environment is, therefore, essential for the sound health of constitutional states, states that can guarantee basic public goods, enable citizens to freely converse about public life and public policies and engage in creative pursuits with the civil society to address human rights challenges.

The autonomous economic power of media is equally important to exercise the quality journalism and accountability to the public in terms of diversity in reporting, do no harm, transparency and responsiveness. Mass media as a part of robust civil society and intellectual leadership of public power require minimizing the ferocity of violence by means of enforcing the accountability of human rights violators and keeping the citizens in a constant state of alertness for early warning of conflicts, coping with the ongoing conflicts and post-conflict peace-building efforts. The state of multi-media environment offers scope for this. Home Ministers of South Asia in their conference in Kathmandu recently stressed the coordinated efforts to combat their common security threats-non-state armed actors, mafias, cross-border crimes, human and drug trafficking, terrorism and money laundering. Privatization of public purse and public order and unaccountable politics are the main reasons. They highlighted the need to become pro-active in implementing the resolutions of their meeting in letter and spirit. Freedom of speech, organization and expression are curtailed by the existence of both physical and psychological insecurity, deterioration of human rights condition and mischief in action. In a condition of security deficits it is difficult to implement media laws, foster editorial independence and imagine just peace.

Human rights violations are both causes and consequences of vicious conflicts. The recent meeting of human rights organizations of South Asia in Kathmandu demanded an effective, independent and transparent regional mechanism for the monitoring of human rights situation, not only civil and political rights but also ecological, social, economic and cultural rights. It demanded the strengthening of national human rights mechanisms. The campaign priorities of media solidarity presuppose the monitoring of human rights situation and understand conflict dynamics fed by poverty, inequality, impunity and violence. Freedom of press and citizens' right to information are correlated. Media rights, press freedom, freedom of association and union rights are weakly implemented in the region not because of the lack of resources but because of a lack of political will. In this context, safety of journalists is the key challenge to inform the people about the operation of the system.

Conscience of journalists is the only systemic compass that gives them direction and ability to report. The SAMSN MEDIA CHARTER is a good guide. Every problem formulated rationally is capable of solution. Conflict-sensitive media, rooted into public political culture, can awaken the public to their civic duty and bridge the gap between the operation of political power and availability of social justice. Wider awareness and informed participation of citizens in public affairs can exert influence to reduce the amount of direct, structural and ideological violence. 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 aspirations in the equal interest of all. Conflict-sensitive media rooted in the principles of human rights, democracy, 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 cause-effect chain of conflicts. Orientation on the feeling of others can be a base of conflict resolution. This is the 8th meeting of SAMSN in Kathmandu.

Objectives of the Workshop were to

  • Support and strengthen the democratic structure and principles of media union bodies and associations within the region, and highlight this positive social attribute as a means for recruiting members, engaging in negotiations, partnering with other civil society organisations and conducting joint advocacy that promotes democratic participation and representation more widely.
  • Strengthen and expand journalists' organisations and regional networks in South Asia via regular annual meetings and coordination activities for improving journalists' working conditions and safety in South Asia.
  • Build organisational capacity within journalists' organisations (including in regard to monitoring, reporting and campaigning for press freedom and journalists' rights) as well as at the level of joint regional actions.
  • Jointly develop and implement strong strategies and actions for joint campaigning and activism by journalists' organisations across South Asia, led by SAMSN leaders and representatives, with IFJ support as well as provide training on developing effective collaborative campaigns and
  • Secure SAMSN as the leading umbrella body for media freedom and journalists' rights in South Asia.

Themes for Debate

Network and campaigns for press freedom, safety and democratic media, facing up to legal action against journalists in South Asia, country situation reports, media rights and press freedoms, freedom of association and trade union rights, conflict and human rights, Indian case study, media working for peace in South Asia, strategic planning for union strength and campaigning, building impact of SAMSN works, strengthening trade union solidarity in South Asia, social justice and press freedom, advocacy using the universal Periodic Review, etc

Participation

Altogether 24 participants including 2 female representing Afghanistan (1), India (7), Maldives (1), Nepal (9),Pakistan (3) and Sri Lanka (3). Bangladeshi participant could not come due to family problem. There were five resource persons-Nepal 1, Australia 2, India 1 and the UN1 to facilitate the program.

Methodology

Lecture presentation, group reports, country presentation, case studies, visual show, and use of new media techniques for solidarity building such as face book, tweeter, telephone, social media etc, and grasp new opportunities from this for improving media environment in the region.

Remarks

Participants made critical reflection about their works, assessed what have been achieved so far, shortcomings and where more efforts are needed. They identified a number of areas where more solidarity is required: full implementation of SAMSN Charter, job security, quality journalism, collective bargaining, connectivity about rights violation, life-insurance of journalists and their family members, building solidarity with trade union, bringing publication, setting up of good journalism award, conduction of training on media ethics and media literacy, indexing of common issues for rapid response, profile of key issues, increase more women in the network, etc. IFJ South Asia office has agreed to provide secretariat for cooperation. IFJ distributed several advocacy papers to the participants.

 
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