Special Correspondent

In 2007, 25 journalists and media workers were killed in the line of duty

NEW DELHI: The South Asia Media Commission has declared 2007 as the bloodiest and most difficult year for journalists in South Asia. The year saw 25 journalists and media workers getting killed in the line of duty. Besides, the media had to face “unprecedented restrictions and forced closures” in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

In its report — released on Monday — the Commission found that barring Bhutan, no member country of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) had been free of attacks on the freedom of the press.

Of the 25 deaths, Pakistan topped the list with seven journalists being killed. Sri Lanka came a close second with six deaths, Afghanistan third with a death toll of five journalists, and Nepal fourth with a tally of three. Besides, one media worker was killed in Afghanistan and three media workers lost their lives in India.

In India, the Commission noticed disturbing trends: “Arrogance by the authorities, especially in the States; misplaced enthusiasm to ‘reform’ the media, and intolerance of militant groups, evident in disproportionate, violent reaction to publication of the accounts of their activities, not to their liking.”

The report also referred to the efforts made by the Government to regulate broadcast services through an official agency; a proposal that was withdrawn in the face of opposition.

About Pakistan, it said the private electronic media faced the worst times with successive draconian amendments made to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance and later imposition of an arbitrary media code that took the life out of the private television channels. It drew attention to news channels being taken off air and the blanket restrictions on free debate and live coverage of events.

Referring to the struggle put up by working journalists and civil society organisations in Pakistan against the restrictions, the Commission said the pressure on media houses by the military regime was such that private television channels could not fight for too long and had to resume their transmissions under the most restrictive guidelines.

“Yet, the joint struggle of journalists, lawyers, students and civil society organisations continue for a free media, independent judiciary and rule of law as the struggle for restoration of democracy enters its most crucial phase.”

In Sri Lanka, the Commission found that as the internecine ethnic conflict grew out of proportion, journalists and media houses became more vulnerable to conflicting pressures. “The Government of President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam competed in enforcing restrictions on the media.”

Difficult area

While Afghanistan remained a difficult area with journalists getting caught in the crossfire among various adversaries, Nepal and Bangladesh presented a “mixed picture due to a difficult and tenuous transition.”

The Maldives, according to the Commission, remained a difficult country, and Bhutan offered the only good tidings. The country witnessed the careful opening of the media with the advent of constitutional monarchy and introduction of democracy.

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