Monday, December 1, 2014

UN adopts resolution for safety of working journalists

Good news for lovers of Freedom of the Press

A committee of the UN General Assembly on Friday adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists that calls on States to promote a safe environment to journalists to work independently.
Proposed by France, Greece, Austria, Argentina, Costa Rica and Tunisia and co-sponsored by more than 80 countries, the resolution will come up for endorsement by the 193-Assembly next month.
The resolution, which was adopted without a vote by the Assembly’s Third Committeee,  contains similar advances to those in last year’s General Assembly resolution on the same subject, but goes further on several points, namely in the range of abuses against journalists identified, on combating impunity for crimes against journalists and on surveillance of their communications. (The Committee deals with social, humanitarian and cultural matters.)
‘Reporters Without Borders’ hailed the adoption of the resolution, and called for the appointment of a special adviser to the UN secretary-general to ensure that it is effectively implemented.
The resolution “condemns unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, as well as intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations”.
The updated resolution reaffirms the concept of journalism as an activity that is evolving and now includes not only professional journalists but also “private individuals and a range of organizations that seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, online as well as offline.”
It reaffirms the obligation to protect journalists in both wartime and peacetime and stresses the need to “create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for journalists” and to conduct “impartial, speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations” into attacks against journalists and other news providers.
The resolution lists all the human rights violations and abuses that constitute a threat to the safety of journalists, not only killing, torture and enforced disappearance but also “arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention, expulsion, intimidation, harassment, threats and other forms of violence.”
Reinforcing governments’ obligations to combat impunity, it mentions the June 2014 UN Human Rights Council panel on the safety of journalists, at which the special rapporteurs criticized a lack of political will on the part of governments, it points out that attacks against journalists are on the rise and it describes the fight against impunity as the “biggest challenge” for journalists’ safety.
One operative paragraph of the text urges governments to cooperate with UNESCO on a “voluntary basis” and to share information about investigations into attacks against journalists, while another refers to the good practices identified in the Human Rights Council resolution of 25 September 2014.
Like the Human Rights Council one, Friday’s resolution stresses “the particular vulnerability of journalists to becoming targets of unlawful or arbitrary surveillance or interception of communications in violation of their rights to privacy and to freedom of expression.”
It also calls for the release of all journalists who are being held hostage.

Political Communication goes direct


From the days of town criers, communication with the people has come of age. And it is still evolving as one finds newer and newer ways of effective communication. As a journalism student way back in 1975 (when Mrs Indira Gandhi declared the infamous Emergency!), I was taught that there is nothing like perfect communication. There is always a room for improvement.

My generation grew up listening to All India Radio bulletins which ostensibly had only the ruling party stories. Our village panchayat office used to rely on public address system to broadcast regional news bulletins at 6.10 PM and that was the lone way to remain in touch with the world for us. Yes, I was equally fortunate enough to see town criers making announcements on temple programmes, puppet shows and even circus.
We were told that George Fernandes had used effective communication to defeat the Congress stalwart S K Patil by reasoning it out with his voters as to why the latter should be defeated. In the elections that were held during the Emergency, we saw and reported on the way the Janata Party used the slogans around the excesses by Sanjay Gandhi to trounce Indira Gandhi and, subsequently, how she convinced the people that the ‘Khichdi’ (coalition) government was a terrible failure and that there was no alternative to the Congress.
Traditionally, political parties have been using series public rallies as a way to directly communicate with the people and the media would pick up pictures and stories of these campaigns. Even before the advent of the television, the Government of India-owned Films Division would show shots of rallies, apart from sports and regional news.
Political communication during the elections has acquired an element of discipline, thanks to the electoral reforms initiated by the 10th Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan during early 90s. Each and every word spoken by the candidates were on Seshan’s radar. No one dared to violate the law. Today, even paid news is under check and former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan was in trouble on this count.
Barrack Obama made an effective use of the social media with his “Yes, We Can” campaign and it did not take India and the rest of the world to latch on to this effective medium and transform the way politicians communicate. One could witness a sea change as Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev used the social media to whip up national, particularly the youth, sentiment against corruption.
BJP and its PM candidate Narendra Modi saw the huge potential in the social media and used it to the hilt and to their advantage. The Congress may take pride in saying that the party government brought in the Internet and telecom revolution, but they woefully lagged behind Modi when it came to using it as a tool to directly communicate with the target audiences. not only covers what Modi does as PM, but also web casts his rallies. His latest – the radio address – has caught the imagination of the people as the event was covered live by all the news television channels. In a way, one must give due credit to Modi for reviving the importance of the forgotten radio which has come to be known only for its FM channels. Obviously, Modi took cue from Obama who is known for his week-end addresses over the radio and which the rest of the media picks up.

Modi has also revolutionized the way politicians conduct rallies. He hurls loaded questions at his audience and gets one word responses. He used effectively during the Lok Sabha elections and even the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. For instance: Do you want the corrupt Congress to go or not? And the obvious roar from the audience has to be “Yesss”. To this extent, Modi has made his rallies interactive as the predominant rural folk – half of whom are illiterate and not computer savvy – do not have to depend on Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi!
When he launched the Swachha Bharat campaign on the Gandhi Jayanti, he effectively snatched the Mahatma from the Congress and the broom from Aam Admi Party.
Modi keeps experimenting with communication tremendous success. Even the way his recent foreign trips have been covered by the media – and mind you, not the government controlled Doordarshan or All India Radio, but the so-called private and independent ones – is a case study material by itself.
Political communication has come of age and don’t be surprised to see further evolution as the political system is bound to throw many more Modis.

 (The author B N Kumar – BNK for friends – is known for his multi-tasking, often referred to as the ten-headed Ravan! A veteran media professional, he loves to have pot-shots at politicians)