Kathmandu recommendations

Article by Saakshi Project

South Asian Journalists and human rights defenders call for sensitive reporting of violence against minorities 

South Asian journalists and human rights defenders from six SAARC countries (Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) jointly published their recommendations –entitled the ‘Kathmandu Recommendations’ -to the media on responsibly reporting hate speech and violence targeting minorities. 

The eight recommendations include the need for media to practise caution as they use social media as a source of information, the importance of employing ombudspersons, and the need to counter hate speech with proactive alternative speech. The group also called for better protection of journalists and human rights defenders by their local governments and law enforcement agencies. 

The drafting of these recommendations began at a consultation aimed at helping journalists and human rights defenders from the region work collaboratively to share best practises in reporting on a range of issues that affect religious minorities. The event-held in Kathmandu in August 2014- was organised by the SAAKSHI project and attended by twenty participants from six South Asian countries.

Journalists from Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were among the authors of the recommendations, including Manoj Mitta (NED fellow and former senior editor at the Times of India and Indian Express), Deepak Adhikari (an independent journalist from Nepal who writes for a range of media outlets including Al Jazeera and AFP), Dhaka Tribune journalist Julfikar Ali Manik , two leading human rights activists from India-John Dayal and Ram Puniyani, Peter Jacob (Director of Centre for Social Justice, Pakistan) , and Tahmina Rahman, South Asia Director of Article 19 –the organisation that helped in the formulation of the U.N Rabat Plan of Action. 

Vishal Arora, one of the participants of the consultation said: “These recommendations are apt given the currency of religion-related issues in South Asia, from competing voices of moderate Muslims and extremist Islamists in the Muslim-majority nations of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and the Maldives, to heated debates over religious intolerance in India, and from the declaration of secularism as a constitutional value in Nepal to the need for ethnic and religious reconciliation in the post-civil war Sri Lanka. And Bhutan, considered the most peaceful country in the region and the world’s only Mahayana Buddhist nation, appears to be cautiously moving towards equal treatment of all religious communities.”

THE KATHMANDU RECOMMENDATIONS:

Recommendations drafted by a group of South Asian journalists and human rights defenders on best practise in reporting violence targeting minorities. 

We recommend that media organisations should: 

1. Bear in mind that hate speech that incites violence is not the only kind that is prohibited under international law. The ICCPR – which has been signed by most SAARC nations (with the exception of Bhutan) – also requires states to prohibit incitement of discrimination and hostility. Accordingly, the media should exercise due caution in dealing with statements, policies and actions that violate such covenants. 

2. Implement recruitment policies ensure that journalists at all levels reflect the demographic diversity of their countries, in terms of religion, region, language, caste, ethnicity and gender. Journalists from different backgrounds can help ensure that the organisation is not taken by surprise by issues that may be brewing within various communities.

3. Appoint an ombudsperson or reader’s editor to deal with grievances of readers/viewers. During times of communal tensions, such an internal watchdog can play a mediating role and offer advice to time-pressed editors. This can help ensure that the media is part of the solution rather than the problem.

4. Invest more in effective and timely ‘counter speech’ as encouraged by the UN Rabat Plan of Action. They should also embrace the responsibility to highlight moderate voices and the voices of victims. 

5. Include in their code of ethics, among other things, their ethical responsibility to protect minorities against violence, discrimination and hostility. The code of ethics should be imparted to all the journalists and strictly enforced as a measure to maintain the credibility of the organisation concerned.

6. While recognizing and embracing new media initiatives such as blogs, citizen journalism and social media, exercise due diligence in picking up unverified information and inflammatory opinions from such sources, especially when they are likely to have repercussions on communal harmony.

7. Compile case studies to sensitize journalists to the various ways in which they may fall prey to communal propaganda in their cultural context and create an institutional memory to respond to such challenges.

8. In the event of communal violence on a mass scale, the media should not propagate the false assumption that crimes targeting minorities are entirely or spontaneously the result of public anger. Instead, the media should investigate the possibility of political instigation, evasion of responsibility or administrative complicity, which often includes the claim that episodic violence is the result of public anger. The pattern over the years shows that public anger needs to be addressed – but is in itself - not a sufficient condition for violence against communities. 

Although this document is directed primarily at the media, we would also like to stress the responsibility of each government to in particular, enforce existing laws against incitement and intimidation. The lack of such enforcement often results in mob rule and the harassment or worse of journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders who attempt to speak up for oppressed minorities. Counter-speech would be impossible in such a dangerous environment.

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