Stakeholders mull future strategy for the safety of journalists
In line with the UNPFN Project Mid-Term Assessments Guidance Note, the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu organized a review meeting of the UNPFN/UNESCO project "Increasing the Safety of Journalists" from March 26 to 27 in Nagarkot, with active participation of all major stakeholders.
Speaking at the start of the review meeting, Amita Vohra, officer in-charge of UNESCO Office in Kathmandu , urged the participants to deliberate seriously on the peace building role of the project and whether the intended beneficiaries have access to and adequate participation in the project's activities.
Amita Vohra urged the participants to explore ways to mitigate risks faced by women and vulnerable groups and also identify means to help the project meet its goals within the set timeframe.
Laxman Datt Pant, Coordinator of UNESCO/UNPFN project 'Increasing the Safety of Journalists' in Nepal, said that despite the delay in setting up the office and recruiting staff for the project, significant steps have been taken towards achieving the project's goals.
"National and regional consultations covering remote and conflict sensitive districts in which the implementing partners held face-to-face interactions with 500 journalists is a measure of success of the project," said Pant.
Executive Director of Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), Bijay Raj Gautam, said that the delay in appointing commissioners at NHRC is hindering the overall human rights activities, thus, affecting one of the project's major goals of setting up a nationally-owned mechanism to address issues related to violations of freedom of speech and media rights, as envisaged by the project.
Inspector Basundhara Khadka, of the Nepal Police's human rights cell, said that frontline staff of security agencies, who are the first responders in case of crisis, have poor educational background and lack proper knowledge of human rights and press freedom issues. She said that the junior level staff, which comprise 80 percent of the police force, need more orientations and training to sensitize them on the issues concerning safety of journalists and freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, participants were unanimous in addressing specific issues of women media workers through special provisions. They agreed that the issue of professional safety takes a different dimension in case of women media workers, therefore, special programs must be designed not only to encourage women to take up journalism but also to retain them in the field.
Sharmila Karki, president of the NGO Federation, said that the issue of women's media rights should not be seen in isolation from the overall social, economic and political issues that affect them. "Vulnerabilities will persist until women are adequately represented at leadership or decision-making level," Karki said.
She also urged all concerned to "move beyond symbolic activities like meetings and presentations," and ensure that the change is reflected in government and institutional attitude towards women.
Nirmala Sharma of Sancharika Samuha stressed that rather than limiting themselves to blaming social practices, women (media) workers should focus on building their own capacity and increasing interactions with male peers as well as and raising their issues with media owners and editors.
Khem Bhandari, president of Minimum Wage Fixation Committee, said there is a need for better, clear and stronger laws to discourage deviation from professional journalism through punishment. "Existing laws are vague and confusing," he said.
Chairman of Press Council Nepal, Borna Bahadur Karki, said that the project is already getting a very good response from all concerned stakeholders, but more work is needed to be done for the project's objectives to last beyond its duration. He urged all steering committee members to consider the possibility of a no-cost extension of the project for at least six months.
The participants noted that journalists themselves must be encouraged to approach police, lawyers and court, rather than trying to resolve serious threats and physical assault outside the ambit of law. They also stressed that equally challenging for journalists are professional or job related issues, which have often times been the reason behind the physical threats or assaults on journalists.
They recommended that the project's revised work plan must put greater emphasis on the issues of professional security.
Some other professional safety issues discussed were the minimum wage issue,
replacing, or at least, review of Working Journalist Act, 2051, revision of journalists' code of ethics, among others.
The meeting was attended by the representatives of National Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Information and Communications, Federation of Nepali Journalists, Minimum Wage Fixation Committee, Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, NGO Federation, Press Council Nepal, International Media Support, Freedom Forum, Informal Sector Service Centre, Sancharika Samuha and Nepal Police, where they apprised the steering committee members about the challenges they faced in carrying forward the project objectives and possible solutions.
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