IFJ Launches Situation Reports on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka

Bangladesh; Sri Lanka; Situation Report; Asia and Pacific; Press Releases

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The International Federation of Journalists, in collaboration with partners and affiliates released situation reports on journalists’ rights and the state of media freedom in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The information presented in the reports is the result of extensive consultations between the IFJ and its partners, field visits and interviews by IFJ personnel in the two countries.

 

The reports highlight the current priority areas for campaign and advocacy work in the two countries and identify focus areas for future international solidarity actions.

 

In Bangladesh, the deeply polarised nature of national politics continues to create fissures within the media, with owners, who are often compelled to take sides, pressuring professional staff. Political contention is likely to mount as the country approaches national Parliamentary elections in 2013. Constitutional amendments enacted by the current government in 2011, ostensibly to imbed what it portrays as the values of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle, have led to serious discord, and opposition protests have been mounting, particularly against a clause which does away with the system of holding national elections under neutral, caretaker administrations.

 

After several false starts, the process of bringing to account individuals accused of crimes and atrocities during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of liberation began in 2011. But the pressures and political sensitivities associated with the proceedings of the International Crimes Tribunal – a body created by Bangladesh national law – have not abated despite broad consensus on the need for accountability. Media reporting on the proceedings of the tribunal has often come under the scrutiny of the tribunal, which has twice held particular newspapers and journalists guilty of contempt.

 

There have been multiple cases where particular newspapers have been charged under the defamation law. The allocation of broadcast spectrum for television channels is often seen to be a source of exerting control and a form of censorship.

 

Safety issues were highlighted by the brutal twin murder of a journalist couple in the capital city Dhaka, in February, and in a number of retaliatory attacks by political actors, for reporting deemed as critical.

 

Bangladesh’s journalists began a campaign in February 2012 to secure a new wage accord for themselves. Under national law, statutory bodies are required to be created every few years to ensure that journalists’ wages and working conditions are appropriate to their requirements of sustaining a high level of professional motivation and commitment. These efforts were rewarded in June 2012, when a wage board comprising representatives of the journalists’ unions, the media industry and government was constituted under the chairmanship of a former Supreme Court judge.

 

Important policy changes in recent times have enabled a growth of community radio in Bangladesh, though licensing processes are seen as excessively complicated. A right to information bill enacted in 2009 promises greater accountability and transparency in governance, though it is seen to grant too many exceptions and the number of those who have been motivated to use it, is still very modest.

 

IFJ partners in Sri Lanka have been campaigning for media freedom to be recognised as an essential part of the process of national reconciliation, following the end of the country’s quarter-century long civil war in 2009. Their efforts are yet to be recognised, since few reforms have been implemented in the media sector and the recommendations of a high-level commission on national reconciliation remain largely on paper.

 

Media reporting on the process of resettlement and rehabilitation in the country’s Northern Province, which suffered the worst ravages of the civil war, has often been impeded by security personnel who continue to be deployed there. And far from assuring accountability for the number of attacks and killings of journalists during the war, the pattern of violence has persisted in the years following.

 

Journalists and human rights defenders are often attacked by official spokespeople on government-controlled media channels, contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance for even legitimate criticism of the government. Websites that carry news and current affairs content on Sri Lanka have been subject to arbitrary rules of registration and in some cases, to police raids and seizure of equipment.

 

Financially vulnerable media houses have been subject to further pressures as increased costs passed on from banks and financial institutions threatens their sustainability. In addition, change of ownership has often resulted in rapid changes in editorial policies and personnel.

 

The revival of the Press Council of Sri Lanka is seen to embody a very real coercive intent on the part of the government, since the 1973 law under which the body is constituted conceives of a number of possible sanctions against the media, including the power to prosecute under various provisions of criminal law. The Sri Lanka Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body set up by the media industry, has been seeking to establish its credentials as an institution that is fully equipped to deal with current challenges.

 

The situation reports on Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were prepared with the financial support of UNESCO, under the International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC). The report on Bangladesh is available in English and Bangla and the report on Sri Lanka, in English, Sinhala and Tamil.

 

The reports can be found here.

 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950

 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

 

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

 

Find the IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific 

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U.S. Concerned Over Moves to Stifle Free Expression

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The United States Embassy in Colombo is concerned about recent threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.  The November 28 beating of a reporter in Jaffna, harassment by Government of Sri Lanka officials of independent media outlets, and searches without warrants of journalists all serve to stifle media freedom.  Additionally, the Embassy is greatly concerned about reports of attacks on students in Jaffna.  We call upon authorities to exercise restraint and respect peaceful demonstrations.

Sinhala and Tamil PDF

Ceylon Today editor in chief forced to quit, reasons still unclear

 

Ceylon Today editor in chief forced to quit, reasons still unclear

Published on Friday 22 June 2012.

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the reasons that led the management of the newspaper Ceylon Today to force its editor in chief Lalith Allahakkoon to resign on 13 June. The journalist, who received no letter of dismissal, arrived at his office on 16 June to find that access to his computer had been blocked.

“The dismissal of Lalith Allahakkoon by Ceylon Today is worrying,” the press freedom organization said.

“If it is merely an internal restructuring issue, as experienced by many media organizations, there would be no reason to intervene, but we fear that it is rather a restriction on news and information and politically-motivated censorship,”

Reporters Without Borders wrote today to the management of Ceylon Today seeking the reasons for Allahakkoon’s dismissal and asking that all possible steps be taken to find a favourable outcome to this crisis gripping the newspaper’s editorial staff.

On 13 June Allahakkoon was summoned by the executive director Dushyantha Basnayake who asked for his resignation.

The following day, in a letter to Tiran Alles, chairman of Ceylon Newspapers (to which Ceylon Today belongs), and circulated to news organizations in Colombo, four of his colleagues, deputy editors Wilson Gnanadass and Dharisha Bastians, and journalists Rasika Jayakody and Dinidu De Alwis, expressed concern about “the persecution of our Editor-in-Chief Lalith Allahakkoon and our journalists that has arisen, based on false assumptions of political and ideological affiliations and allegiances; it is alarming, to a greater extent, that these persecutions and allegations stem from the highest echelons of the management, being you.”

BY-

http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-ceylon-today-editor-in-chief-22-06-2012,42866.html

New Frontiers, New Struggles – Press Freedom in South Asia, 2011-12

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has this year, as in the past, collaborated with a range of partners in South Asia to produce a report which reviews developments in the region that have had a bearing on press freedom and quality journalism.

The report has been published with the generous financial support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Like the nine that have preceded it, this year’s report is part of the continuing effort of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) to build foundations for united action across borders by the region’s journalists.

World Press Freedom Day 2012 comes at a time of momentous challenges for journalism in South Asia. Journalists in the region have responded to these challenges by seeking a manner of professional engagement that reflects all South Asia’s rich diversities.

 

Physical security remains an issue in most of South Asia. The relative improvement seen in several countries of the region may have been achieved by deliberate decisions cut the risks involved in reporting highly sensitive stories. And the sharp deterioration of an already bad situation in Pakistan far outweighed the slight improvements elsewhere.

Journalism was a hazardous pursuit through long years of internal conflict in Nepal and Sri Lanka. And now with conflict at an end and processes of political reconciliation underway, journalists are finding that several of the passions of the years of open warfare are yet to subside. Verbal aggression against journalists who dare to report all sides of a story and stand up for basic norms of fair treatment continues to be a threat. And if the record of the past is any indication, verbal aggression is normally a precursor to physical violence.

Important processes of accountability have been initiated in Nepal, to dispel the climate of impunity for attacks on journalists that hung heavy over the media all through the years of conflict.

Though all countries in South Asia have formal guarantees of a free press in their written constitutions, there is a persistence of formal and informal systems of censorship. In recent times, these threats have been manifest in the May 2011 advisory sent out to all media organisations in the North-Eastern Indian state of Manipur, warning against the publication or broadcast of material “directly or indirectly in support of the unlawful/ illegal activities of various organisations”. In Afghanistan, where the institutions of electoral democracy are yet to establish their authority in relation to customary mechanisms of social governance, a council of religious clerics has sought to directly influence media policy and content, though with only partial success.

India has, in its vastness, displayed diverse trends. There are parts of the country where journalism functions with few constraints and dangers apart from the constant pressure of commercialisation. In the conflict prone regions such as Kashmir, the North-Eastern states and the Maoist insurgency districts — where journalism that tells the full story could make a difference — tensions persist and dangers are ever present.

 

In Pakistan, the year that has just passed was one of serious hazard and trauma. Within this frontline state in a global conflict, the combatant parties are many and international humanitarian norms are disregarded by all. Journalists in Pakistan have to steer a perilous course between hostile elements. Sectarian conflict in the vast metropolis of Karachi and an insurgency in the sprawling but sparsely populated province of Balochistan, are additional elements of risk.

A transition towards a more liberal political regime in the Maldives was set back over the year. But in Bhutan, the people still retain faith in the movement towards a democratic political order under a constitutional monarchy. Professionalisation of journalism remains a challenge in both these, the two smallest nations of South Asia, where media ownership is all too often, closely tied to powerful business and political interests.

Bangladesh witnessed new stirrings of discord after some years when the customary acrimony between the country’s main political parties was relatively subdued. The less than cordial environment of political contestation has had a severe impact on journalism, fuelling bitter partisanship within the media. And over the year just gone by, additional pressures have developed, that seek to enforce conformity in both the written and spoken word, with the decrees of a tribunal established to try war crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of liberation.

In Afghanistan, periodic outbursts of civil strife, the continuing threat of insurgency and the imminent prospect of a withdrawal of western military force, created an environment of serious uncertainty that has allowed little in the way of public-spirited journalism to take root or grow. Opaque structures of ownership and the direct stakes that the more powerful political players have acquired in the media, pose another dimension of problems for ethical journalism.

Together with all these difficulties, there has been a growing crisis of livelihoods within the profession. The wage board process in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, that determines wages and working conditions for journalists, is in a state of crisis. Media houses are increasingly able to find ways of evading its stipulations. In the absence of a regular appointment system under a wage board, or a working journalists’ act, campaigns for decent work and ethical practices become risky endeavours. Nepal, which secured significant amendments to its Working Journalists’ Act in 2006, in recognition of the constructive role played by the media in the restoration of democracy, is now finding that the crux of the matter really lies in the implementation.

 

The shift towards contract and casual employment has led to a weakening of professional commitment and the growing influence of commercial and advertising departments in the functioning of media houses.

At the same time, journalists and media have been facing increasing threats through the legal process. Often, the purpose of these actions is not to secure meaningful redress, but merely to impose a form of censorship through legal injunction.

The Press Freedom in South Asia report is now available on the IFJ website.

by – http://sunandadeshapriya.wordpress.com

Alarming Increase in Hostile Rhetoric, Threats of Reprisals against Journalists in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly deplores the alarming escalation in hostile rhetoric and the barely concealed threats of reprisals that have been made against some of the country’s leading journalists and human rights defenders by representatives of the Sri Lankan government and by state-owned media outlets.

This follows the adoption of a resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 22, in which the Sri Lankan government was censured for rampant human rights violations during the last phases of the country’s long civil war and urged to initiate urgent measures of reconciliation to ensure a durable peace between the country’s main ethnic groups.

“We observe that state-owned media has in the days since the U.S. made known its intention to table a censure resolution against the Sri Lankan government, been rapidly ramping up the tone of its attacks on the country’s journalists and media freedom defenders,” said the IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park

On January 26, Dinamina, the Sinhala-language daily from the state-owned Associated Newspapers (or Lake House) group, carried a story quoting senior minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, to the effect that exiled journalists who had taken up the campaign for human rights and reconciliation were “traitors” who were bringing the country into “disrepute”.

Later, the English-language daily from the Lake House group, the Daily News, reported that human rights defenders, including journalist and press freedom campaigner Sunanda Deshapriya, were betraying Sri Lanka and continuing to work with the terrorist rump of the defeated Tamil insurgent group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In an editorial on March 16, Dinamina described human rights defenders as “degenerates” and denounced Deshapriya as a “mouthpiece of the LTTE”. It warned that in a country like Iran, “these kinds of bastards would be stoned to death”.

Dharmasiri Lankapeli, one of the veteran leaders of the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU) has also been targeted by the state-owned media. The attacks have become particularly harsh since the country’s main professional media associations and journalists’ unions joined hands for a “black January” observance this year, to protest against the continuing climate of impunity for attacks on the right to free speech.

The attacks have also extended to social scientists and political commentators such as P. Saravanamuttu, Nimalka Fernando and Sunila Abeysekara, and prominent figures of the church who have argued the cause of national reconciliation and accountability for human rights abuses since the end of the civil war.

The government-controlled ITN TV channel has been a platform for severe verbal assaults against journalists and human rights defenders. Between January 9 and 24, the channel carried no fewer than five programmes in its daily slot titled “Vimasuma” attacking journalists who had been present during the nineteenth regular session of the UNHRC, for having allegedly “betrayed” the country.

The IFJ learns that vivid and graphic photo-montages have been circulated by various political actors, which represent journalists and other prominent human rights defenders as terrorists and traitors, working at the behest of alien forces.

On March 23, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Public Relations, Mervyn Silva addressed a public demonstration against the UNHRC resolution, threatening to “break the limbs” of any of the exiled journalists if they dared set foot in the country again. Among the journalists mentioned was Poddala Jayantha, who suffered a brutal assault in Colombo city in June 2009 that left him with permanent disabilities, and has lived in exile since January 2010.

Silva has been known for several bruising encounters with the media in recent years and was in July 2009, credibly reported as publicly claiming credit for the murder of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunge in January and the assault on Jayantha in June.

Though he later disavowed the statement attributed to him, Silva’s record as a baiter of journalists committed to human rights and free speech, has continued to cause deep unease.

“We fear that the hostile climate created by the stream of rhetoric from government spokespersons and state-owned media, could engender serious hazards to those who dare to speak up in Sri Lanka for peace and national reconciliation,” said Ms Park.

The dangers are clear and imminent and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has issued a public warning against reprisals that target Sri Lanka’s journalists and human rights defenders.

“We call on the top political leadership in Sri Lanka to promptly distance itself from the manner of hostile rhetoric that has been seen and heard over the last three months,” said Ms Park.

“We urge that serious consideration be given to the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission which recently submitted a comprehensive report pointing the way forward for post-conflict Sri Lanka, after being invested with a wide-ranging mandate by the President of the country.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 134 countries

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

Find the IFJ on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific

By – http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/alarming-increase-in-hostile-rhetoric-threats-of-reprisals-against-journalists

 

Censorship Imposed on News Alerts by Sri Lanka’s Military Authorities

 

By – IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins affiliates in Sri Lanka in sharply denouncing the latest move towards news censorship in by the country’s authorities.

 

In a letter addressed to various news and media organisations, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) a body which operates under Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence, has demanded that “any news related to national security, security forces, and the police should get prior approval from the MCNS before dissemination”.

 

The letter is signed by MCNS Director-General Lakshman Hulugalle and dated March 9. It will apply to all news alerts issued through text and SMS over the phone network.

 

Emergency regulations in force for much of Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war allowed for prior censorship of news platforms. Since the lifting of the state of emergency in August 2011, there no longer appears to be a clear legal sanction for censoring news flows.

 

The MCNS directive follows an incident in the north of the country in which three soldiers of the Sri Lankan army were killed. Rumours soon emerged, suggesting that the insurgent army that had waged a quarter-century long civil war against the Sri Lankan government was regrouping. These rumours were soon dispelled by an official statement clarifying that the incident involved a soldier of the Sri Lankan army who had shot two colleagues before turning the gun on himself.

 

There were also news alerts that were sent out at the same time regarding a police officer being arrested while demanding a large bribe, and a botched abduction attempt involving personnel of the armed forces.

 

Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, has warned that the MCNS directive could be the first step towards re-imposing a comprehensive regime of censorship over the media.

 

“We urge the Sri Lankan government to reconsider this move, which does little to rebuild an atmosphere of trust between the country’s ethnic communities after a quarter century of strife”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

 

“The Sri Lankan government should also be aware that the world is waiting in anticipation for it to initiate long overdue gestures of reconciliation that would contribute towards a long-term peace in the island-nation”.

 

“Yet far from implementing the comprehensive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) — a body appointed with a mandate from Sri Lanka’s President — the Government seems set upon a course of heightened confrontation”.

 

“We call on the Sri Lankan government to withdraw the latest moves towards censorship, and urge serious engagement with all representative bodies to see that the LLRC recommendations, which include significant measures on freedom of speech and the right to information, are implemented”.

 

 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950

 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

‘Black January’ Campaign Against Attacks on Journalists in Sri Lanka

25 January 2012 – by IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has joined the ‘Black January’ campaign against attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, organized by the Alliance of Media Organizations.

 The month of January 2012, has been nominated as ‘Black January’ in Sri Lanka, by the Alliance of Media Organizations and its supporters in the national and international communities.

The campaign is a response to the attacks on the media that have occurred in the month of January in the past three years, and the failure of the government of Sri Lanka to bring to account those responsible for attacks on numerous journalists.

These attacks include the murder of Sunday Leader editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga in 2009, the disappearance of political columnist Prageeth Ekneligoda in 2010, the attack on Sirasa media network in 2009 and the brutal attack on television producer Lal Hemantha Mawalage in 2008.

In recent years, the month of January has also witnessed the murder of Tamil parliamentarian T Maheshwaran, the abduction of Akuna journalists Sisira Priyankara, Nihal Serasinghe and Lalith Seneviratne and the former army commander Sarath Fonseka’s characterisation of certain journalist as “traitors”.

On January 25, journalists and media workers all over the world will unite in observance of ‘Black January’, culminating in a series of public protests in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

The IFJ, in solidarity with the Free Media Movement and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) join our colleagues in Sri Lanka, in urging the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct proper investigations into these serious attacks on the media.

The IFJ reminds the Government of Sri Lanka of its deeply disturbing record of default in bringing to account individuals, state agencies and non-state actors who increasingly make journalism and the dissemination of information for the wider public good, a deeply hazardous pursuit.

“The violence against journalists in Sri Lanka and the continuing disregard by the government of Sri Lanka in addressing these crimes is unacceptable”, IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

“The IFJ urges concrete action by authorities in Sri Lanka to take heed of today’s ‘Black January’ protests and address acts of violence against journalists and media workers”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950

 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

 

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

 

Find the IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific