International media conference: Freedom of expression and marginalised voices

Journalists made a  Seven-Point Declaration pledging concrete support for media inclusivity and freedom of expression.                                                                        

International Alert (IA) and the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), an umbrella network of working journalists in Nepal successfully organized a two-day international conference, ‘Promoting Freedom of Expression and Marginalized Voices in the Media,’ on 9-10 October 2017 in Kathmandu, with the Governance Facility (GF)  as one of the funding partners.

The conference was attended by leading journalists, academics, international development partners, government officials and policy makers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK.

“Nepal’s recent constitution has protected freedom of expression and media rights, and will be the guardian and the beacon of light for the press freedom. The media needs to prioritise and play more proactive role in bringing the marginalized voices in public discourse,” said Rt Hon Onsari Gharti Magar, Speaker of the House, speaking during the opening session of the event.

“Nepal has seen a rapid progress over the years but the media is still concentrated in urban areas and does not represent everyone. It needs to be transparent, accountable, responsible and inclusive connecting the disconnected groups and promoting gender equality and marginalized voices,” said Diepak Elmer, Deputy Head of Mission, Swiss Embassy. He was one of the key speakers during the inaugural session.

The journalists highlighted on several challenging issues that are affecting their freedom of expression and inclusivity in the media. The participants concluded the conference with a seven-point declaration that pledges concrete support for media inclusivity and freedom of expression, and calls on governments to do the same.

The event generated lively debate on issues such as the journalists’ safety, self-censorship, alternative media, gender representation, media ownership and business interests, disaster communication, and how to make media more inclusive of the marginalised voices.

“We hope this conference facilitates lessons and ideas encouraging Nepali media to defend its values and play proactive role in institutionalising democracy,” said Govinda Acharya, President of the FNJ.

IA’s Nepal Country Representative Rabina Shrestha said, “Despite some achievements, the media sector in Nepal still has a long way to go to truly become the voice of the voiceless. By promoting excluded voices and reducing threats facing journalists, we hope to contribute to greater media freedom of expression and pluralism in Nepal.”

Many journalists shared that corporate interest in the media has affected their reporting. The senior journalists expressed how especially the young reporters have problems understanding the expectations of the editor and the media house. Their reports get filtered and shelved, ultimately affecting their press freedom within the newsroom.

“This should be discussed and talked about because until there is self-censorship, press freedom cannot flourish,” said Saroj Raj Adhikari, Editor of Nepallive.com.

 

 

Photo Courtesy: International Alert

 

 

One of the key issues discussed were the low number of and retention of women journalists. “The media houses should be investing more on the capacity building of women journalists and providing appropriate facilities in ensuring conducive newsroom environment,” said Nirmala Sharma from Sancharika Samhua.

“Journalists can play a key role in making both the state and the society accountable, but they need a lot of guidance especially on developing their content management skills, that can enhance in their reporting with an ultimate aim to strengthen the society,” said senior journalist Shiva Gaunle, Editor of the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

The South Asian Society is highly diverse but the mainstream media in the region has been providing more voice and spaces to the politically powerful, economic elites and socially-culturally dominant groups, and squeezed the voices of the marginalized groups, said the GF’s senior research officer J.B. Biswakarma, who moderated a panel discussion among senior journalists, activists and academicians.

“Theoretically, journalists are considered to be the voice of voiceless people. Unfortunately, that is inadequately reflected and practiced in the media,” explained Biswakarma. It is important to make a newsroom diverse, reflecting the social realities that helps to build the understanding of the different communities among the content producers and create media as a platform of the diverse voices. To strengthen inclusive democracy, the structure of the media and contents should be inclusive, he added.