Across South Asia press freedom and safety of journalists have suffered a severe setback, as governments have stifled the independent media to control the public narrative. Journalists and media organizations are paying a heavy price for speaking truth to power.
On the World Press Freedom Day, five publications from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal joined forces to highlight attacks against press freedom in the region and hold their governments and other institutions accountable for ensuring that journalists can cover the news freely and without fear of retaliation. The publications – The Daily Star in Bangladesh, The Week in India, Dawn in Pakistan, and the Republica and Nagarik in Nepal – published reports on press freedom violations and attacks on journalists in their countries. Furthermore, each publication also re-published articles from their partners about press freedom in the other three countries in the region.
All five publications also carried an advertisement issued by IPI highlighting a free press as the core foundation of any truly democratic system. Quoting the speech by Nelson Mandela at the IPI 1994 World Congress in South Africa, the ad states “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.” This stands in stark contrast with the number of journalists killed in the past 12 months based on IPI’s Death Watch and the incidents of press freedom violations related to COVID-19 that IPI has been monitoring since February 2020 through COVID-19 Press Freedom Tracker.
The WPFD cooperation is part of the South Asia Cross-Border Journalism project, launched by IPI in December 2020, bringing together five publications from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal to report about the killings, attacks, harassment, and intimidation of journalists in these countries. It is the first such collaboration by media outlets in the region supported by UNESCO’s Global Media Defence Fund and Free Press Unlimited.
“I would like to congratulate our partners in South Asia for this important initiative”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said said. “In a region hit by increasing attacks against journalists and restrictions on press freedom, the cross-border cooperation among such well-respected publications shows a continued dedication by the independent media to the core principles of journalism and a commitment to cover issues of public interest in spite of the obstacles and risk that this involves. Their courage is admirable.”