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IFJ-FES-South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) Workshop on The Campaign for Change

Organised by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

18-20 July 2014, Lalitpur, Nepal


Introduction

The self-perception of journalists as a custodian of public interest motivates them to inquire, inform and educate the public about the context, actors, institutions, information and values. As critical masses of change agents of society, they are perceived as defenders of democracy, human rights, justice and social peace. But the worry about one's own insecurity, poor condition of law and precarious career prospects mar the creation of a robust democratic media environment in South Asia. SAMSN's alternative media complement the conventional efforts. The great leap of online world and expanded digital space (social media networks such as websites, internet, facebook, twitter, email, etc) provide universal freedom for participation. Social media are often non-hierarchical, cost-effective, instant and powerful means to build campaign for media freedom and detonate critical debates for social change. They articulate alternative discourses to national, regional and global audiences. New technology-driven communication, however, should not substitute the value of human inquiry upon which media ethics is grounded. Today digital world far from becoming the sole democratic space has also become vulnerable to rival intelligence agencies' maneuver to control data, information and knowledge. Certain domains are even commercializing the society. Protection of this space from corrupting influence is the moral responsibility of journalists as it can meaningfully contribute to democracy promotion.

Despite information revolution and enough development potential, South Asia has the highest rate of population growth, poverty and illiteracy. It also suffers from weak governments lacking institutional capacity to solve problems, formulate and implement public policies and create an open-access participatory democratic order able to satisfy both positive and negative rights of citizens. The skewed distribution of power within the states has unleashed new form of political dynamics, unequal distribution of society's amenities and inadequate governance. Some South Asian states suffer from the clash of territorialized polities and de-territorialized societies which constantly set tension between the region's heritage of tolerance and current centrifugal pressure of geopolitics. As a result, this region is fraught with the high mobilization of grievances and erosion of inter-institutional trust. Power of majority, not normative public reason, dominates decision-making at the system level leaving critical minorities on the edge of alienation. In South Asia, vernacular media are still powerful instruments for education and public opinion. They need to be connected to more public-facing, visible webs enabling digital media to undertake social, gender and inter-generational responsibility. This is important for new technology to imbibe democratic values and work together to foster an informed citizenry. A strong solidarity between them offers citizens ample freedom for conversation on how to exercise fully their right to information and increase SAMSN's regional and global outreach to media workers, unions, netizens and citizens. What it requires is context-sensitive knowledge orientation and engagement in public's struggle for the creation of good society.

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 12 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

South Asia Media Freedom for democracy project, capacity building of journalists organizations and press freedom groups and enhance a regional coordinated voice, digital media environment, skills, monitoring, advocacy and freedom of expression, secure communication for physical security, media right monitoring reports, wages and working conditions and journalists intervention on ongoing debates on media policy, legal threats and harassments, economic downturn and impact on journalism and unions, challenges of ethics and media regulation, achieving gender balance in South Asian media and develop campaign strategies on gender, impunity, SAMSN branding and core messaging and freedom of expression in digital space.

Participation and Resource Persons

There were altogether 36 participants from Afghanistan (1), Bangladesh (2), Nepal (12), India (7), Pakistan (5) , Maldives (1) and Sri Lanka (5) and nine resource persons including 4 female. Two resource persons came from Australia and Secretary-general of IFJ from Brussels, three from India, one from the Philippines and 2 from Nepal respectively. Bhutanese participant could not come at the last moment due to her problem with the passport.

Methodology

IFJ came up with annual "Press Freedom in South Asia 2012-13" and a back ground paper while country study is prepared by each participating countries. A Manual on Security in a Tool Box and Reporting Under Threat were distributed to the participants. Group discussion finalized the works to be accomplished, new areas of focus and potential challenges for building solidarity. There was lecture presentation through internet, interaction with digital technology expert and participatory sharing of experiences.

Conclusion

On the whole the meeting reflected on 12-year of FES cooperation with SAMSN, current media environment in South Asia, defined the tasks ahead on a number of areas-gender, impunity, freedom of expression in digital space, core message and research to back up the campaign so as to create secure democratic media environment. 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, addressing the issue of impunity and contempt of court, priority on gender issue, corporate and state control of social media and suggested media owners to reevaluate their media practices under the well-established principles of journalism and social responsibility and increased participation of journalists union in policy making. It will continue to monitor media rights violations and advocate journalists' freedom and rights in South Asia.

 
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