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Kamala Sarup: Impact of Terrorism on Press Freedom

Impact of Terrorism on Press Freedom

(World Press Freedom Day special)
By Kamala Sarup

Every year on the 3rd of May journalists all over the world celebrate World Press Freedom Day to reiterate their commitments to fundamental principles of press freedom and freedom of expression. As internal and cross-border conflict continues across the world, journalism remains a glamorous, yet one of the most risky professions. Altogether 78 journalists were killed in the year 2004 while covering violent conflicts. Twenty-three journalists were killed in Iraq alone.

Since the Philippines gained independence in 1986 some 56 journalists have been killed there including 12 in 2004. More than 300 journalists have been murdered in Latin America in the past 15 years; that is, at the rate of more than 20 journalists every year. Under Castro's Cuba, 30 journalists were slapped prison terms during a crackdown last year.

A World Press Freedom Day conference at the Frontline Club in London on Tuesday will provide a forum to discuss challenges being faced by the media personnel worldwide. The statistics are staggering: more than 500 journalists have been murdered in the past decade. In 8 cases out of 10, the killers walk free. The conference, organised by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), among others, will bring together colleagues and family members of murdered journalists to share their testimony.

Nepali Journalists, too, have been subjected to threats, arrests and other untenable actions by both the government and insurgents over the past year. The frequency and severity of such assaults have increased in recent years. A number of journalists have been killed or made to disappear. On 2 September 2004, Bijaya Mishra, a reporter with Kantipur daily in Siraha received death threats from Maoists for allegedly not reporting the arrest of a local Maoist leader. Mishra was told he would suffer the same fate as journalist Dekendra Thapa who was killed on 11 August.

Last year, the rebels brutally killed Dekendra Raj Thapa, a reporter with the state-run Radio Nepal in Dailekh district. A Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders said it was shocked and revolted by this barbaric murder.

Another journalist, Gyanendra Khadka, with the government ne! ws agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti , was killed by Maoists sometime back at Jyamire in eastern Sindhupalchowk District. Maoists threatened to kill 10 journalists in Dailekh and Achham districts. It is but obvious that the insurgents would turn into a gang of criminals if they do not correct their behaviour in time.

Nearly two months ago, a group of unidentified assailants entered office of Dharan Today newspaper in the eastern district of Sunsari and shot its editor Khagendra Shrestha. Shrestha later succumbed to injuries while undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Siliguri, India, Security officials blamed Maoists for the incident while the insurgents haven't said anything in this regard as yet.

Despite such risks, media personnel put themselves under risk to gather news. Daniel Pearl was a victim of terrorism. Daniel Pearl was naive to think that he, a westerner, could wander into militant areas in Pakistan in safety gathering news. Terrorists also kill or hold journalists for ransom or for publicity. The threat of terrorism to the freedom and independence of media can be both direct and indirect.

No one has ever been convicted of these killings and nobody has been brought to justice. The deliberate targeting of journalists by those who seek to prevent media from exposing their activities represents a worrying trend in the world.

The continued violence directed towards media, including killings, cannot be allowed to continue. The criminalization of politics, violence of terrorists and rebel groups have all contributed to the creation of a climate that legitimizes use of force against journa! lists. A responsible press is also a self-regulated press. So, Media can play an objective role in society and respect human security. There can no longer be any excuses, no acceptable argument for killing a journalist. Crime against journalist—who is also a human rights defender-- is simply unacceptable.


(This article was published in Kamala Sarup is editor of )

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