South Asia was not a safe place for journalist in the year 2013 as violence against media personnel and impunity against perpetrators continued to remain a major threat to media freedom.
The recently published South Asia Media Monitor Report states, “Despite UN Security Council Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists and several international resolutions on the protection of journalists, lives continued to have been lost in South Asia in the course of journalists doing their jobs with the year 2013’s toll being 22.”
The country with the largest number of journalists killed in connection with their work was Pakistan with 10, followed by eight in India, three in Afghanistan and one in Bangladesh. “Courtesy of these killings, Pakistan and India have made it to the shameful club of the world’s five deadliest countries for the media,” the report noted.
South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) Bhutan Chapter President Nedrup Zangpo said, “The report highlights death of 22 journalists in South Asian countries in line of duty and it also highlights culture of impunity, meaning people responsible for death of journalist not being taken to task by different governments particularly India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among others, but not in Bhutan.”
“No journalist in Bhutan has lost their lives, but it does not mean that we do not have challenges in line of duty. The Bhutanese journalist community will face increasing challenges as our democracy matures,” he added.
The report also states that journalists still struggle for fair wages and decent working conditions. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal principally, established laws on the protection of living standards are being breached with little consequence. In other countries such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Afghanistan, the struggle is underway for securing protections under the law for the wages and working conditions of the media people.
The SAMC calls on the governments of South Asia to address the issue of violence against the media by bringing perpetrators of past crimes to justice. Also, the media owners as well as journalists themselves will have to fight impunity.
Afghanistan, despite striding 22 places up to 128th on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, 2013, the country saw a sharp increase in violence and threats against journalists by local officials, police and the Taliban. Three journalists were killed in the war-ravaged country in 2013. The killings and death threats demonstrate the major challenges facing journalists and freedom of speech in Afghanistan, and the urgency to find ways to provide journalists with protection.
Bangladesh moved down 15 places to 144th on the same press freedom index.
The number of journalists killed in the line of duty in India went up from three in 2011 and five in 2012, to eight in 2013.
The report mentioned that Maldives’ political instability resulted in threats and physical attacks on journalists and staff purges, which made it difficult to produce independent news and information. The Maldives ranked 103rd, a sharp fall by 30 places after President Muhammad Nasheed’s removal in an alleged coup, followed by threats and attacks on journalists regarded as his supporters.
The report also stated that in different regions of Nepal, media persons were badly assaulted by political parties, security persons, government officials, businessmen, ethnic communities, leaders and unknown gangs. It further stated that Nepali media were intimidated with frequent attacks, threats, death threats, manhandling, vandalism, and the torching of newspapers. These acts of violence were attempts to gag news providers in a country ranked 118th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.
In Pakistan, ten journalists were killed in 2013 earning the country tag of being one of the world’s deadliest five countries for media personnel. Pakistan is ranked 159th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.
Sri Lanka has been classified by Reporters Without Borders as a country under surveillance because of its violations of freedom of expression and is ranked 162nd out of 179 countries in its 2013 Press Freedom Index. “Such a perilous climate of press freedom is there in the country that despite the killing or forced disappearance of at least 39 media workers and bombing of media institutions, not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice. Such situation has forced more than 80 journalists to flee the country,” the report stated.