December 5th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Journalists from Pakistan, India, Thailand, Cambodia, and the United Kingdom have all called for greater coordination and solidarity among journalists and rights activists across the world to resist the global trend towards suppression of the right to dissent.
On December 3, the Asia Europe People’s Forum organised a webinar with renowned journalists on ‘Towards Just Media for Rights and Freedom of Expression’.
The webinar builds upon the findings of AEPF’s report titled ‘The Right to Dissent must be at the Heart of our Democracies: 10 Country Report’.
The report highlights the 10 countries- Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan -which have each evolved different political and legal systems which enable, hinder or prevent, in different degrees, their citizens to exercise the Right to Dissent.
Sidharth Vardarajan, from The Wire, India, called upon formulating strategies national, regional, and international levels to resist suppression of the right to dissent in countries across the world. He said proper documentation should be maintained at the national level of every single incident of harassment, intimidation, and misuse of investigative agencies against journalists and media outlets.
“Journalists need to forget institutional rivalries and ideological and political differences and realise that any attack on a rival fellow journalist goes against them,” he said while explaining on how journalists and activists can forge a common front against government suppression of press freedom and freedom of expression.
Similarly, journalists have to stand in solidarity with their colleagues in such cases from regional countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, he emphasised.
“Governments in India and Pakistan encourage their media to be xenophobic against each other,” he explained. “It’s important to break this nonsense and say that if our colleagues are under pressure in Pakistan we must stand with them,” Vardarajan said.
The world must wake up to the fact that freedom of media is not just threatened in countries with a non-democratic setup but also in those that are meant to be democracies, he pointed out.
He said international media organisations like Reporter Sans Frontiers could play an important role in the global strategy against media suppression. “When RSF and other international media organisations speak up against India’s declining standards of media freedom it pinches New Delhi a lot,” he said.
Besides, Sidharth Vardarajan suggested the creation of a global legal fund to support freelancers and small news outlets to defend legal challenges.
Munizae Jehangir, editor-in-chief of VoicePk, Pakistan, suggested that journalists develop and stick to their own code of ethics, referring to the misconception around the world about the national media’s role to project a positive image of its country and government.
“The need for a code of ethics is imperative as the government has been contradictory in its stance on national policies, she said. “The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan was an enemy of the State but now the government is having negotiations with it,” she pointed out.
“The credibility of journalists is continuously being challenged in Pakistan and several journalists had their shows shut down,” Jahangir said.
She said the media landscape has changed in Pakistan. “A strong newsroom or journalistic research is no longer prized in the country,” Jahangir said. She said the military was trying to control social media in the country while the mainstream media houses were in financial crisis because of shrinking advertisements and viewership.
Laurens Hueting, from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom in the United Kingdom, highlighted there were problems with press freedom, media pluralism, and safety of journalists in certain states of the European Union.
“In Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, we are seeing government pressure on media outlets,” Hueting said.
He cited instances of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in certain EU countries. “The goal of SLAPPS is not to hash out a legal dispute but to drain energy and finances and bully journalists to silence,” he explained.
Sopheap Chak, from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said regressive legislation have been adopted to curb media freedom in Cambodia.
She suggested that civil society develop a protection mechanism for journalists in order to resist the suppression of media freedom. “Journalists should be provided with legal support as well as humanitarian aid,” she added.
She agreed with the suggestion that global media organisations should highlight instances of threats and intimidation of journalists around the world.
Chiranuch Premchaipon, from Foundation for Community Educational Media in Thailand, said solidarity among journalists, citizen journalists, and rights activists could help resist attempts by governments and groups to suppress press freedom and right of dissent across the world.
She said the government has used Less Majeste laws to suppress media and popular protests in Thailand. Besides, she pointed out, the government was using conspiracy and sedition laws to suppress online media reporting on issues of public interests.
Gie Goris, the moderator of the webinar, suggested that the award of Nobel Peace Prize to journalist Maria Ressa from the Philippines could be used to highlight and build a global movement against the suppression of the right to dissent across the world.