Saarc journalists summit | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Saarc journalists summit

More than 150 eminent journalists from the member countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) met at South Asian Free Media Association’s (SAFMA) Saarc Journalists Summit at Rawalpindi on January 3, 2004 to focus on the issues of free flow of and access to information.

They called upon the governments of South Asia to allow free movement of journalists and media products across frontiers. While addressing the Saarc Journalists Summit the foreign ministers of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal assured their governments’ support to the free movement of journalists and media products across borders and associating SAFMA as an apex regional media body of the Saarc To overcome information deficit among the countries of the region, the Saarc Journalists Summit issued the following Declaration:

“We the media representatives and delegates, from both print and electronic media from member countries of Saarc, to the Saarc Journalists Summit of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), having met in Rawalpindi on January 3, 2004, for a stock-taking of the current situation in the region, in general, and the state of media freedom and media laws, the right to know and access to information in our countries and the free movement of media persons and the free flow of information across the South Asian region, in particular; Reaffirming the principles inspiring the ‘Joint (Founding) Statement’, issued by the First South Asian Free Media Conference, ‘Towards free, fair and vibrant media’, at Islamabad, on July 1-2, 2000, ‘Declaration of Intent’ of the Second South Asian Free Media Conference on ‘Media and Peace’, at Kathmandu, on January 1-2, 2002, and ‘Dhaka Declaration’ of the Third South Asian Free Media Conference on ‘Media and Democracy’, at Dhaka, on May 25-26, 2003;

Reiterating their commitment to the right to know and freedom of expression, as recognised by the UN, being a “fundamental human right and the touchstone of all freedoms”, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as a basis for informed and authentic civil society and a pluralist democracy; Convinced that the right to know and freedom of expression, access to and free flow of information ensure information as empowerment for many based on inclusion, as opposed to the ‘need to know’ based upon exclusion and as power for the few. It promotes awareness, transparency, protection and exercise of rights and empowerment of the people. These rights are vital to the capacity of media and the citizenry in tipping the balance in favour of human rights, human security, humane governance, participatory development, empowerment of the people and the hegemony of civil society through its freely expressed will, regardless of any distinction on the basis of belief, gender, social status, place of origin or residence;

Emphasising the imperatives of the information revolution and the need to overcome information deficit among the member countries of Saarc, which is essential to create understanding, build confidence, promote cooperation and facilitate conflict resolution, and adoption of SAFMA’s Proposed Protocol on ‘Free Movement of Media-persons and Media-products Across the South Asian Region’, proposed by the Second Free Media Conference, before the 11th Saarc Summit at Kathmandu, and its ‘Proposed Protocol on Freedom of Information’, proposed by Saarc Journalists Summit, before the 12th Saarc Summit, by Saarc and its member countries; Concerned about the delay in initiating an integrated, uninterruptible, inter-sector, composite and result-oriented process of negotiations and dialogue between governments in South Asia, particularly between India and Pakistan, who are both victims of terrorism, a continuing row between India and Bangladesh over the issues of economic immigration, water and security concerns, suspension of the peace process and negotiations between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, continuing plight of the Bhutanese refugees, the suspension of parliamentary process and of the negotiations with the Maoists in Nepal, the repeated violations of press freedom and victimization of media persons and propaganda warfare through war movies, demonising the other side of the conflicts, banning of or subtle exclusion of each other’s television networks from showing on cable-networks, between India and Pakistan, stigmatisation and marginalization of the minorities in almost every country of South Asia and generally about the quality of governance and the pervasive corruption in the region;

Welcoming the wave of confidence-building, reconciliation and peace moves in the region and steps being taken by the governments to resolve their differences and disputes through peaceful means, and the proposals to widen and deepen economic cooperation among SAARC countries Realizing our duties as citizens and opinion-makers in the countries of South Asia to promote peace, eradicate terrorism and violence and religious extremism and communalism by both state and non-state actors, stabilize nuclear regime and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, uphold freedom, democracy, pluralism, human rights, including rights of women, minorities and dispossessed, create understanding, harmony and friendship among our people; Have agreed to adopt the following Saarc Journalists Summit Declaration on the eve of 12th Saarc Summit: That we call upon the people of South Asia, especially their governments, and the Saarc Secretariat, to adopt SAFMA’s Proposed Protocol on ‘’Free Movement of Media-persons and Media-products Across the South Asian Region’, and request the 12th Saarc Summit to, at least, include the following paragraph in the Declaration of 12th Saarc Summit:

“Realising the need to respond to the imperatives of information revolution; Recognising the urgency to overcome information deficit among the member countries about each other and; Appreciating the initiative taken by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) to promote understanding, access to and free flow of information in the region. We the heads of government and state of the member countries of SAARC agree that: a) Leading media-practitioners, to start with, shall be allowed free movement across our frontiers to perform their professional duties without a visa, as being practiced by certain other categories of our citizens, and a liberalized, countrywide, multiple-entry, five-year visa regime, without police reporting and bureaucratic delays, shall be instituted for media-persons, with 10-year of credible experience or accreditation since 1993; b) Media products, whether print or electronic, shall be allowed free flow across our borders under a zero-duty regime and without restrictions with an objective to promote harmony, free flow of information and better understanding among the member countries; c) Facilitate by all possible means the citizens right to know and access to and free flow of information; d) Form a Special Committee on Media consisting of foreign/external, information and interior/home secretaries of the member countries, that shall, in consultation with media bodies, especially SAFMA, find a suitable mechanism to facilitate free movement of media practitioners and media products across frontiers by developing a consensus on a Protocol; e) Will review the implementation of these guidelines on this issue at our 13th SAARC Summit.”

2 That, given the absence of an effective freedom of or access to information law in the countries of Saarc, and the need to ensure the people’s right to know, we demand from all governments in South Asia to adopt SAFMA’s ‘Proposed Protocol on Freedom of Information’ not only at the Saarc level, but also its adoption as a law by their legislatures.

3.That, as a mainstream media body of the countries of South Asia, fulfilling all the prerequisites of becoming a Saarc Apex Regional Body, SAFMA legitimately deserves to be associated as a Saarc Apex Regional Media Body immediately to play its due role in strengthening the Saarc process and achieving its noble objectives.

4 We call upon all the governments of South Asia to take the course of negotiations to resolve their interstate and intrastate conflicts and differences and respect human rights, including the rights of women and minorities, safeguard press freedom and stop the victimization of media persons and repeal all restrictive media laws;

5.That, welcoming the holding of 12th Saarc Summit at Islamabad, we hope, and demand, that it agrees on the implementation of the guiding principles of South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) while addressing some of the genuine concerns of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and take steps to make Saarc a really dynamic regional economic grouping;

6.That, taking the lead, we the participants of this Saarc Journalists Summit and SAFMA calls upon the people, intelligentsia, elected representatives, organizations of civil society and our own media fraternity to work together in bringing closer the dream of a South Asian Economic and Monetary Union, creation of a South Asian Collective Security System to ensure the sovereignty, independence and solidarity of each country, to divert resources from arms race and other non-productive heads to the eradication of poverty and development of human and physical infrastructure, and to jointly face the negative consequences of unilateralist and globalisation and for South Asia’s genuine share in world trade and its respectable place among the groupings of nations.

7 We further call upon the governments of South Asia to realize the aspirations of the people of the region for sound governance, transparency, accountability and the strengthening of as well as the institutionalisation of democracy”.

Source: The News