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Report on IFJ/FES Workshop South Asia Media Solidarity Network

Building Union Capacity for Human Rights and Conflict Reporting in South Asia

Narrative report of the 2012 IFJ-FES South Asia Media Solidarity Network Meeting

August 3-5, 2012 Kathmandu


Introduction

South Asia is a region of paradox: it is one of the most conflict-prone regions of the world but has also tremendous potential for economic and technological progress and human development. Transformation of this potential is essential to reduce conflict-producing causes and promote democratic structures and rules for human rights, wellbeing and social peace of citizens. The signs of South Asian conflicts veer along a variety of faultlines—geopolitical, structural, manifest, perceptual and latent ones. They are fed by an imbalance between rule, rights of citizens (freedom, empowerment, claim and immunity) and mutual responsibilities of states and citizens tied to create legitimate public order. The multiple nature of regional states—soft, weak, fragile, predator and failed-- reflect uneven human condition and unfinished human rights struggle for liberation, entitlements and social opportunities. Incubation of irredentist forces, armed groups and war lords in the region is mainly attributed to weakness of regional states to maintain legitimate monopoly on power to overcome fear and basic needs deficit of citizens.

Social modernization of the region has not been able to transform the rule of unwritten transcript of society, hierarchy and patriarchy into responsive democratic governance and subordinate private ambition of rulers for public responsibility. Conflicts invade the intra-state and inter-state geopolitical relationships and distort the level of communication, social cohesion and trust. The strategic geography of the region has also become a major center of international diplomacy. Conflicting frames of human nature, nature of state and international system are systemically linked to the loops of local actors of conflict and peace adding complexity even to resolve state-centric and post-state issues. The South Asian states have yet to moderate their contesting frames of reference in terms of self-images, interests, capabilities and identities and build a common awareness of its great human and natural potential for just governance. A proper balance between traditional rights of ancients called group rights and modern individual and human rights is central to resolve the value conflict. It helps to link rule with equal rights of citizens and human beings.

Journalists can offer informed perspectives—both objective and normative-- for improved communication, build trust and seek resolution of values and conflicts. Solution-oriented journalism is the key to build trust between the state and society and moderate the multiple ecological, social, economic and political transitions of the region. This is necessary to break the vicious nexus of frictions and conflicts and bridge the information gap between the core and the periphery. Journalists’ freedom is precisely couched in keeping the power of robust public sphere vibrant on both opinion and will-formation and support the integrity system of governance. Reporting about the sources of conflicts poses fatal risks to the life, liberty, job security and professional ethics of journalists. The reflection of flash point evokes a lethal spiral of fear resulting into self-censorship of journalists imposing difficulty in reporting objectively about the news, expression of views and judgments. Elimination of this fear entails the review of contesting frames, progress in human rights situation and decent working condition and capacity building of journalists and their unions. These help restore their public roles as social critiques of power. Fair reporting about human rights establishes people's right to information and sensitizes the public about the cost of conflict and benefits of peace.

It is essential for the creation of democratic media environment and set up public oversight on working conditions of journalists. 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 soft power of good will and common good. But a lack of associative thought and feeling has marred the possibility to reap the development potential and use it for shared interests of all citizens. Desired level of peace requires the conflict-sensitive reporting while protecting the journalists on the ground. In this context, the work of South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) is vital to beef up the solidarity network and campaigns to transcend parochial politics and organize campaigns for journalists’ safety, fair wages, decent working conditions, address gender issues and engage in “collective wage bargaining” in response to income growth of media enterprises and the state. The South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) has been established by the IFJ with the support of FES 10 years back which has prepared South Asia Media Charter and precise Action Plan to guide, work by consensus and seek a common platform of solidaristic action.

Themes

Physical security of journalists, wages and working conditions, legal threats and harassments, economic downturn and impact on journalism and unions, and challenges of ethics and media regulation in South Asia.

Participation and Resource Persons

There were altogether 27 participants from Afghanistan (1), Bangladesh (1), Nepal (4), India (9), Pakistan (3) , Maldives (1) and Sri Lanka (3) and five resource persons including two female. Two resource persons came from Germany and Australia respectively.

Methodology

IFJ came up with annual “Press Freedom in South Asia 2011-12” and back ground paper while country study was prepared by each participating countries. Group discussion finalized the works to be accomplished, new areas of focus and potential challenges for building solidarity. There was methodology was based on lecture presentation, group interaction and participatory sharing of experiences.

Conclusion

On the whole the meeting reflected on 10-year of FES cooperation, current media situation in South Asia, defined the tasks ahead and search for natural partners in the pursuit of creating democratic media environment in the region. The members of SAMSN decided to create “Common Place for Internet” for all, agreed to share campaign resources and assigned one person responsible for each chapter. They also agreed to organize media literacy campaign, safety training of journalists, gender equality in media profession, report about journalists problems, alliance building with civil society, linkages with social media platforms, wages of working journalists and addressing the issue of impunity. They also agreed to build effective communication at plant level and motivate members to join unions.

 
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