Tidbits of the region’s media
The mortality rate of journalists is high across Southasia, with harassment, threats and beatings commonplace. Even so, the two brutal murders this month, of editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in Sri Lanka and journalist Uma Singh in Nepal, have stood out. Wickrematunga was shot to death by unidentified gunmen on his way to work on 8 January, and there appears to have been little progress in the case since then, though his posthumous editorial points a finger at the Rajapakse regime. In the aftermath of that deliberate killing, numerous journalists have fled the island, fearing assassination.
In Nepal, Uma Singh was a young woman radio-and-print journalist, working in the tumultuous Tarai. On 15 January, she was brutally hacked to death by a group of more than a dozen men. The motive for the killing remains unknown, though authorities have arrested four suspects. While indiscriminate attacks on journalists and media houses in Nepal have been continuing, the molestation of women journalists has been even more pronounced after Singh’s horrific murder.
On the topic of media suppression, Burma certainly deserves a mention. Journalists continue to be detained, sometimes tried and oftentimes given astounding sentences for challenging the most trivial of the junta’s draconian laws. Even after all the international attention the country received after the monks’ protests of September 2007 and Cyclone Nargis the following May, so little of what actually happens behind the bamboo curtain actually filters out. Meanwhile, Burmese journalists are said to have watched Obama’s inauguration with great interest. Chhetria Patrakar wonders whether the fact that his speech was not censored means that the junta is slipping? Unfortunately, there is nothing else to indicate the possibility of an opening-up anytime soon.
In Bhutan, the situation is certainly not as dire as that in Burma, but ‘press freedom’ continues to be a relative term. Journalist Shanti Ram Acharya has been given a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for being involved in “subversive activities”, and for allegedly having links to Maoist groups that work against Thimphu. The truth appears to be more that along the lines that Acharya, long a refugee in Nepal, had worked for two papers published by exiles. This, coupled with his political activism on behalf of refugees, seems to be the real crux of the matter.
And now for some good news. In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has kept at least one commitment made during her election campaign. After almost two years in jail, publisher and editor of the daily Janakantha (The People’s Voice), Mohammad Atiqullah Khan Masud, has been released from custody. Hasina had promised to do just this before the elections last December. At the same time, though, the criminal charges against Atiqullah are yet to be dropped. One of the things he stands accused of is “tarnishing the country’s image abroad”. Criminal indeed!
‘Terrorist’ is undoubtedly a much-used (and abused) word in Pakistan. Dealing as he does with the allies in the ‘war on terror’, President Asif Ali Zardari perhaps has more occasions on which to use it than do his colleagues. With the habit formed, the premiere seems keen to just keep on expanding the list of those who fit in that category. CP hears that President Zardari is now including journalists in his list, calling them the “biggest terrorists”. Having been on the receiving end of the sharp pens of many a scribe, many in Islamabad may wholeheartedly agree with this statement. But the people with whom President Zardari shared this belief – NWFP businessmen, who had come to ask that the government help to tackle extremist violence in the troubled region – went away unconvinced.
Another chapter in the epic tussle between journalists and management is being played out in the Outlook Group. Editor of the Outlook Money publication, Monika Halan, resigned this month stating, in a public letter, that her decision was made necessary by interference from management. She even went on to say that the annual Outlook Money Award, given by the group, was being used by managers to meet advertising goals: she says she was told that last year’s award should have gone to the Life Insurance Corporation, a government-owned company that advertises in Outlook Money. The management trotted out the usual rejoinder – “baseless and defamatory”. Whatever the internal politics may be, CP thinks it gutsy of Halan, one of the few women among business journalists, to resign publicly, rather than slink out quietly without challenging the Outlook management.
And here again is a similar story. Vir Sanghvi claims to have written his last column for Mint’s Lounge, the lifestyle section of the weekly business magazine. Sanghvi will, however, stay on in his advisory editorial director role at the Hindustan Times Group, which owns Mint. The note on his blog announcing the end of his association with the paper was strongly worded, saying, “Mint’s hypocrisy takes my breath away.” It appears that Mint editor R Sukumar refused to print an article of Sanghvi’s, in which he was critical of the magazine. Then, oddly, Lounge did carry Sanghvi’s column the week after his dramatic announcement of resignation. No explanation appeared on either the Lounge site or Sanghvi’s webpage by way of explanation. Fishy, fishy.
Aww! CP so wanted to see Deepika Padukone all dressed up as a Chinese woman! But just a week after the much-talked-of Chandani Chowk to China arrived at Nepali theatres, the Information Ministry recommended, and the cabinet approved, a nationwide ban on the Bollywood film. The reason: “controversial” dialogue claiming that the Buddha was born in India. The enlightened one was actually born in Lumbini, in Nepal, (though of course the country did not exist at the time of his birth, around the 500 BCs). Officials say that the ban aims to prevent potential law-and-order problems. They’re probably still scarred by the Hrithik Roshan brouhaha back in 2000. Did Hrithik the hunk say he didn’t like Nepalis, or didn’t he?
Transparency has been a keyword of the Mohamed Nasheed presidency, something the new government in Male appears to be taking seriously in practice, as well. At a training programme for media officers at government agencies, Vice-President Mohamed Waheed emphasised the importance of telling people about available government services and how these provisions could be accessed. Smart pre-emption of a campaign for the Right to Information, thinks CP.
Reading the news is good for more than just gathering knowledge about world affairs, apparently. Actually, it makes one healthier, and the only caveat is that the reader has to have trust in the mass media. The cynics out there might be saying, Hmm, that’s a tall order in this neighbourhood. But experiments by a team of Japanese researchers ‘prove’ the grouches wrong: of all the people interviewed from Asia, Maldivians as a group had the greatest level of trust in mass media. CP doesn’t want to be a sceptic, but just cannot believe that decades of uninterrupted Gayoom-ering made Maldivians any the healthier.