IPI’s Cross-Border Project Tackles Press Freedom Violations in South Asia | Voice of America
In Nepal, despite threats of COVID-19 infection and declining wages, journalists are working tirelessly on the ground to cover the pandemic.
When journalist Kailash Joshi was infected with COVID-19, he continued to do his job, plotting stories for two media outlets while isolating himself in his home. He is just one of the dedicated journalists in Nepal working around the clock for cover the pandemiceven in the face of risks to their own health 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 press freedom.
Launched in December 2020, the project, entitled âCovering and Investigating Attacks on Journalists in South Asia: a Cross-border cooperationWorks 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 the performance of their duties and the inability of state institutions to create a climate in which the press can operate independently and without fear of reprisal,” VOA told VOA Barbara Trionfi, director of the IPI.
Each newspaper documents threats against journalists and press freedom violations through articles which are then shared and republished in partner media.
The project, which receives partial funding from UNESCO’s Global Media Fund, functions both as a resource and advocacy vehicle.
âThe IPI leads the advocacy efforts, which gain strength thanks to the visibility that news organizations can provide,â explained Trionfi. [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 has connected journalists and raised journalists’ awareness of attacks on press freedom in neighboring countries,” VS Jayaschandran, editor-in-chief of Indian news magazine The Week, said in an interview with E-mail.
âMy reporters have felt professional satisfaction from their publication in newspapers abroad,â Jayaschandran said.
Connecting with newspapers abroad is an important part of the IPI project.
âThe cross-border aspect of the project is particularly important and it highlights the similarities and shared values ââbetween freelance journalists and editors in the four countries,â Trionfi told VOA.
Threats to press freedom in South Asia
âSouth Asia remains one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism, with frequent attacks on the press and very high levels of impunity for crimes against the media,â Trionfi said.
Ravi Prasad, IPI’s director of advocacy, 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.
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 independent journalism under attack in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. And in Pakistan, ranked 145th, the media are largely under the control of the Pakistani military.
In India, ranked 142 on The RSF scale, after the 2019 elections gave more power to Prime Minister Modi’s party, the general state of press freedom in the country worsened. Journalists are often the target of social media campaigns that threaten the press with violence. Legal reprisals are also used as a means of censorship.
âThe government of President Modi has become more and more intolerant [of] critics and has passed various laws to criminalize independent and critical journalism, âTrionfi told VOA.
Jayaschandran says that laws such as Special Powers of the Armed Forces Act (AFSPA) also undermined press freedom in India.
AFSPA gives more power to the armed forces in “disturbed areas” and, among other things, allows the military to stop and search without a warrant and to open fire on citizens in some cases. The law was criticized by the Human Rights Watch as “a tool of state abuse”.
India’s Illicit 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.
âSouth Asian countries imitate India in terms of laws and regulations, and often go beyond those laws to enact draconian laws,â Prasad told VOA.
In Bangladesh, a 2018 digital security law, which threatens a maximum life sentence, targets journalists who criticize the government’s handling of the pandemic, Prasad said.
While the pandemic has posed more challenges for journalists, including financial strains for editorial staff and threats of government censorship, the crisis has also highlighted the importance of a free press.
“As governments attempt to control speech on the health crisis by restricting free speech and freedom of opinion, and by filing complaints against journalists, there is certainly an intensified conversation on press freedom. and the safety of journalists in South Asia, âsaid Prasad. VOA.
Prasad said that the articles published under the IPI project have strengthened the voice of journalists and “in the long term, they are bound to have an impact on the policies and practices of these countries”.
Jayaschandran echoed a similar hope that papers published under the IPI project could “persuade governments to be more responsive and more empathetic.”