IPI’s cross-border project tackles press freedom violations in South Asia
In Nepal, despite threats of COVID-19 infection and declining salaries, journalists are working tirelessly in the field to cover the pandemic.
When journalist Kailash Joshi was infected with COVID-19, he continued to do his job, following stories for two outlets while isolating at home. He is just one of the dedicated journalists in Nepal working around the clock to cover the pandemic, even in the face of their own health risks and limited resources.
Joshi’s story, originally published by the Nepalese newspaper Nagarik on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, was able to reach a wider audience thanks to a new project with the International Press Institute (IPI ), a Vienna-based global network dedicated to protecting freedom of the press.
Launched in December 2020, the project, titled “Covering and Investigating Attacks on Journalists in South Asia: A Cross-Border Cooperation”, works with IPI members in five news outlets across South Asia, including The Daily Star in Bangladesh, The Week in India, Dawn in Pakistan, as well as Nagarik and Republica in Nepal.
“The project raises awareness of the dangers journalists face in carrying out their work and the inability of state institutions to create a climate in which the press can operate independently and without fear of reprisal,” said Barbara Trionfi , director of the IPI, at VOA.
Each newspaper documents threats against journalists and violations of press freedom through articles that are then shared and republished in partner media.
The project, which receives partial funding from UNESCO’s Global Media Fund, functions as both a means of documentation and advocacy.
“IPI leads the advocacy efforts, which gain strength from the visibility that news outlets can provide,” Trionfi explained. [investigative] journalists in each country.
For journalists, the IPI project offers a wider readership and an opportunity to connect with journalists facing similar obstacles in other countries.
“The IPI project connected journalists and raised awareness about press freedom abuses in neighboring countries,” VS Jayaschandran, editor-in-chief of Indian news magazine The Week, told VOA in an interview by e -mail.
“My reporters felt professional satisfaction from being published in newspapers overseas,” Jayaschandran said.
Connecting with newspapers abroad is an important part of the IPI project.
“The cross-border aspect of the project is particularly important and it highlights the similarities and shared values between freelance journalists and publishers in the four countries,” Trionfi told VOA.
Threats to Press Freedom in South Asia
“South Asia remains one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism, with frequent attacks on the press and very high levels of impunity for media crimes,” Trionfi said.
Ravi Prasad, director of advocacy at IPI, said in an email interview with VOA that growing authoritarianism and intolerance of media criticism are two major concerns for press freedom in South Asia.
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index, which ranks countries on a scale of 1 to 180, with 1 being the freest, found that independent journalism was under attack in Bangladesh, Nepal and in Sri Lanka. And in Pakistan, ranked 145th, the media is largely under the control of the Pakistani military.
In India, ranked 142nd on RSF’s scale, after the 2019 elections gave more power to Prime Minister Modi’s party, the overall state of press freedom in the country has deteriorated. Journalists are often the target of social media campaigns that threaten the press with violence. Legal retaliation is also used as a means of censorship.
“President Modi’s government has become increasingly intolerant [of] critical opinions and passed various laws to criminalize independent and critical journalism,” Trionfi told VOA.
Jayaschandran says laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) also undermine press freedom in India.
The AFSPA gives more power to the armed forces in “disturbed areas” and allows the army, among other things, to stop and search without a warrant and to open fire on citizens in certain cases. The law has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as “a tool of state abuse”.
India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act has also been used to block free speech, Jayaschandran said.
Similar laws have been used across South Asia to target the press.
“South Asian countries are imitating India in terms of laws and regulations, and often go beyond those laws to enact draconian legislations,” Prasad told VOA.
In Bangladesh, a 2018 digital security law, which threatens a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, targets journalists who criticize the government’s handling of the pandemic, Prasad said.
While the pandemic has brought more challenges for journalists, including financial stress for newsrooms and threats of government censorship, the crisis has also underscored the importance of a free press.
“As governments attempt to control the narrative of the health crisis by restricting freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, and by pursuing lawsuits against journalists, there is certainly an increased conversation about freedom of the press. and the safety of journalists in South Asia,” Prasad said. VOA.
Prasad said the articles published under the IPI project have strengthened the voices of journalists and “in the long run they are bound to have an impact on policy and practice in these countries”.
Jayaschandran echoed a similar hope that articles published under the IPI project could “persuade governments to be more responsive and empathetic.”