UNESCO, jointly with OHCHR and the Federation of Nepali Journalists, convened a regional conference in Kathmandu on 3 and 4 May to observe World Press Freedom Day. Participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan focused on this year’s theme: The potential of media in fostering dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation.
More than 150 media practitioners from Nepal and from the region attended the inauguration ceremony which was opened by Nepal's President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav. Following the screening of a video on the visit of the International Media Mission (IMM) to Nepal in February 2009, during which UNESCO along with other members of the mission expressed deep concern over the deterioration of press freedom in Nepal, the President officially launched the report “A call to end violence and impunity”, prepared by the IMM.
During the discussions and the experience-sharing sessions, South Asian journalists showcased three specific themes of common interest and concern, namely: the limits to press freedom in South Asia; the potential of media in fostering dialogue, and the role of the media in empowering citizens in countries in transition.
Issues, such as access to reliable information, providing accurate and unbiased information to citizens and media as a platform for public debate and interaction between civil society and policy-makers were addressed. Particular attention was given to how media in South Asia deals with stereotypes and prejudices, religion and democracy and tolerance and freedom of opinion
The International Federation of Journalists, South Asian Chapter and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network presented their seventh annual South Asia Press Freedom Report, Under Fire: Press Freedom in South Asia 2008-2009. The report reveals a worrying decline in press freedom across the seven countries assessed (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).
In the Declaration of Media Freedom in South Asia, adopted at the closing session, participants emphasized the importance of their solidarity in facing common interests and common media challenges. They stressed the importance of World Press Freedom Day as an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
DECLARATION ON MEDIA FREEDOM IN SOUTH ASIA
We, the representatives of professional media unions, associations and organisations from South Asia, meeting in Kathmandu to observe World Press Freedom Day, May 3, take note of the rapid deterioration in the situation for the functioning of a free media in a region that is home to a fifth of humanity.
We reaffirm our belief that free media institutions are an essential part of each of our countries’ efforts to build a truly democratic and representative political order. As working journalists, media practitioners and organisers, we are committed to the fostering of a democratic media culture with a responsibility to the public interest. We believe in professional freedom not as a privilege but as a responsibility, embodying respect for the truth and the right of every individual citizen to know.
We deplore the evident deterioration in the media freedom situation in the countries in this region and note that the most challenging issues for journalists are violence directed by state and non-state actors engaged in war, and bureaucratic and legislative efforts to silence dissent.
The hazards facing the free media in the region are epitomised, since World Press Freedom day last year, in the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge in Sri Lanka, Uma Singh in Nepal and Musa Khankhel in Pakistan. In India, which has despite other hazards, been a relatively safe place for journalists, there have been four murders, three arrests of editors or publishers, and one case of a news organisation being charged with sedition.
In Sri Lanka, J.S. Tissainayagam, arrested in March 2008 and charged with terrorism six months later, continues to face trial for articles written in 2006 that were critical of the military strategy of the government in its combat operations against separatist guerrillas in the east of the country.
Another Tamil newspaper editor in Sri Lanka was snatched from his home in February and held for two months, while senior officials of the government publicly branded him an accessory in terrorism. He was unconditionally discharged by a court in April 2009.
We demand that state authorities in our countries explicitly denounce these acts of lawlessness against the media and institute appropriate sanctions against those responsible. We call upon the enforcement authorities in our countries to bring to justice those responsible for acts of violence against journalists.
We resolve to remain united in cross-border solidarity, in our shared pursuit of an environment of respect for press freedom in our region. We underline our belief that an inclusive relationship between media communities and civil society is key to bringing about such an environment.
We pledge our commitment to working together as a cohesive network to support each other in our common aspiration to improve and assert press freedom and the rights of journalists in the South Asia region.
We express our gratitude to UNESCO, OHCHR and the Federation of Nepali Journalists for hosting and supporting this conclave on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.
Kathmandu -May 4, 2009
Captions:- Photo of panelists participating to the opening ceremony (up).
Group photo of the participants of the Kathmandu conference (bottom).
© UNESCO/News and Pictures form Serena Pepino, UNESCO Office in Kathmandu.