A dozen journalists were killed in South Asia — most of them in conflict situations — during the year which also saw the media come under strain due to “over-commercialisation, monopolisation and excessive political clout.”

Taking stock of the circumstances under which the media functioned this year, the South Asia Media Monitor for 2009 — brought out by the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC) and released here on Tuesday — reflects the growing concern within the media over the manner in which the functioning of a free media has rapidly deteriorated as “vested interests outmanoeuvred editorial controls.”

As for violence against journalists, the year saw a rise in conflict situations with the ongoing armed struggles in the frontier regions of Pakistan and in Afghanistan bringing the media under tremendous pressure. Of the 12 deaths, seven were reported from Pakistan alone. Two journalists were killed in Afghanistan and one each was killed in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The India overview reflects not just on the rise in violent incidents in the form of attacks on media by vigilante groups but also on the ongoing debate in the country over ethics of news coverage as the “tendency to sell news space for trivia grew.”

Of the view that “some zealots in the profession [in Pakistan] have used their new freedoms to scandalise and destabilise a fragile democracy, albeit ignoring media norms quite frequently,” the report takes note of some ruling party leaders using threatening language against some scribes.

But, according to SAMC, journalists in Sri Lanka have suffered the worst adversities by all standards, “considerably more serious than even the travails that counterparts in Pakistan have faced” and many top journalists had to flee the country fearing for their life.

Despite contributing significantly to the restoration of democracy in 2006, the conditions for journalism in Nepal have deteriorated “representing a poor reward for the media.” The media in Afghanistan, as per the report, has become an arena where armed groups contest fiercely for political space.

While deploring the evident deterioration in media freedom in the region because of violence by state and non-state actors, bureaucratic and legislative efforts to silence dissent, and erosion of editorial control, the Commission has also stressed the need to foster a responsible media culture. “Professional freedom is not a privilege but a responsibility” and media should agree to self-regulation.

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