Role of regional press during crises praised: South Asian Editors’ conference opens
KARACHI- The indigenous-language press in India and Pakistan played a positive role during the communal riots in Gujarat by respectively reporting atrocities fearlessly and playing down casualties so as to ward off reprisals.
This was the widely held view at the South Asian Editors’ Forum’s conference, which began at a local hotel. The two-day conference is titled “Indigenous language print media in South Asia: bridges or barriers”.
Inaugurating the conference, information minister Nisar Memon said that in India and Pakistan 30 per cent and 40 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line. “The governments of India and Pakistan should not squander resources on the defence sector.”
He said: “The indigenous-language press speaks to the rural section of society which is much larger than the urban section. It is important that the indigenous-language press plays its role with great responsibility.”
He termed the South Asian Editors’ Forum a multi-lateral forum, adding that the experience he had gained at the information ministers’ conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation had taught him that such multi-lateral forums on the sidelines went a long way towards breaking barriers of misunderstanding, prejudices and narrow-minded attitude.
The inaugural session, which was presided over by South Asian Editors’ Forum president Qazi Mohammad Aslam, saw the executive director of the Canada-based Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, Shauan Sylvester, made introductory remarks about the role of media in peace-building in a region.
She said: “In Canada peace-building is defined as the effort to promote human security in societies marked by conflict. The overarching goal of peace-building is to strengthen the capacity of societies to manage conflict without violence, as a means to achieve sustainable human security.”
She also referred to the role of local TV stations, which have minimized the role of CNN and BBC channels.
The director of the New Delhi-based International Centre for Peace Initiatives, Karan R. Sawhny, said the media could play an important role in bilateral and internal conflicts by projecting reality, balanced view and responsibility.
The chairman of the Nagpur-based Lokmat Group of Publications, Vijay Darda, who is also a member of Rajya Sabha, requested the information minister, Nisar Memon, to lift the ban on viewing of Indian channels in Pakistan. “In India, we can see Pakistani channels. We must try to get to know each other and the viewing of Indian channels in Pakistan would enable to achieve this objective.”
The former information minister, Javed Jabbar, who is the founding chairman of the South Asian Media Association, said that unfortunately the communicators in South Asia were not communicating with one another. “There is little interpersonal contact between them. The South Asian Editors’ Forum aims to institutionalize the contact between the editors of English-language publications as well as the editors of indigenous-language publications.”
The editor-in-chief of the Dhaka-based weekly “Holiday”, Enayetullah Khan, said there were a large number of newspapers and periodicals in Bangladesh. Although there are Urdu-speaking people living in Bangladesh, there is no publication in Urdu. “The Bangladeshis are highly politically divided on historical questions regarding the war of independence, and it is very much reflected in the media.”
The editor-in-chief of Jansatta, Prabash Joshi, said that having spent a lifetime in journalism, it was strange that he was visiting Pakistan for the first time. “I have come here because Gujarat happened in India. What we have seen in Gujarat are not ordinary communal riots but a revisitation of the horrors of the partition of the subcontinent”.
He suggested that a group, comprising two members each from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, be formed to go to Gujarat, study the conflict and tell us how best to avoid them.
The editor of the Kathmandu-based weekly Ghatana Ra Bichar, Babita Basnet, spoke about those 62 journalists in Nepal who are in police custody for writing about Maoists groups in the country. She said the South Asian Editors’ Forum had written a letter to the Nepalese prime minister asking about the newsmen in captivity. She added that the prime minister had assured some members of the press community that the newsmen would be released.
The president of the South Asian Editors’ Forum, Qazi Mohammad Aslam, said that we have seen one of the most gruesome killings in Gujarat. “It was not a riot. It was not a revisitation of the horrors of the partition of the subcontinent. It was the state killing the members of the minorities.
“In India, the press acted with great responsibility. In Pakistan as well the press, especially in rural areas, did its bit by playing down the incidents of violence in order to ward off reprisals.”
The editor-in-chief of the Tamil-language Thinakkural Daily, A. Sivanesaselvan, said the government was considering initiating a peace initiative with the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam.