Highlighting Media’s Challenge and Responsibility

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Media’s role and responsibility during a conflict situation, the probable threat and also helping hands at the time of crisis, which media persons may take advantage of, negative impact due to media’s inefficient and bias role on the society- these all and many other relevant issues came alive during a media workshop, held recently in Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh capital in central India.

The day long workshop titled ‘Media, Conflict Reporting and International Humanitarian Law’ provided space for the working journalists from different parts of India with journalism students and advocacy groups to discuss and debate at length on the freedom of press as well as the protection of the journalists working in the conflicts zones.

Organised by the Press Institute of India (PII) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in collaboration with the Department of Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad on September 5, was inaugurated by Justice Subashan Reddy, Chairman of Human Rights Commission, Andhra Pradesh. Addressing the participants Justice Reddy, advocated for the protection of the dignity of media with an aim to uphold the democratic values in the country, but at the same time he reiterated that journalists must also be restrained and cautious while performing their duties.

While arguing that the press persons should have access to public affairs, he on the other hand asserted that peeping into private affairs can not be termed as journalistic exercises. Commenting on media’s role he stressed, “Media should not engage in proclaiming any verdict or what could be (should be) the judgment in a particular case.”

“After all, the people (readers and viewers) have their rights as well to read (and listen) correct news,” commented Justice Reddy. Finally he proposed for some provisions (under Press Council of India act) too for punishments to the journalists, who report in wrong ways. Justice Reddy, at the same tine, advocated for arrangement and initiatives for the victim media persons who were exposed to the conflict situation on duties.

Addressing the participants, senior journalist Manoj Joshi said that the journalists should endorse at least three Dharmas (principles) -accuracy, balance and responsibility. The Comment Editor of Mail Today, Mr Joshi also argued that media had no role in managing the security. They should not get involved in such complications. The inaugural session of the workshop was also addressed by V Murali, Director of Press Institute of India, Philippe Stoll, the Communication Coordinator of ICRC, K. Vikram Rao, and the President of Indian Federation of Working Journalists with others.

Pointing out about the workshop, V Murali expected that it would help sensitising the working journalists at various levels about the existing rules and norms of conflict, media’s role while reporting such situation and also the safe practices to be adopted during a dangerous assignment. In other ways, a better understanding of the specificity of situations of violence and conflict would help the media persons to keep behaving in an appropriate manner for their own safety. Attending the technical session, Philippe Stoll revealed that in a battle field, often journalists and ICRC persons might have the same goal.

“The reporters want to disseminate the information to draw the attention of the authority and also the benefit of the people. Similarly, the ICRC officials directly pursue with the authority,” Philippe said. He however admitted that media want more and more people to know about an incident, where as ICRC prefer confidentiality. Similarly, K. Vikram Rao, the President of Indian Federation of Working Journalists commented that journalists could play a vital role in defusing tension. Rao also advised the journalists to avoid planting stories in media. In any way, Rao added, we have no business in making news with distorting the facts.

The technical sessions were also attended by the Communication Officer of ICRC, Surinder Oberoi, A. Krishna Rao, the Bureau Chief of Andhra Jyothy, and K Srinivas Reddy, the Deputy Editor of The Hindu. Highlighting the role of ICRC in protecting the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and internal violence, Surinder Oberoi also added that the ICRC is an impartial, neutral and independent organisation aimed at promoting and strengthening International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and universal humanitarian principles. Journalists A. Krishna Rao and K Srinivas Reddy discussed about the probable challenges while reporting from a conflict zone.

Citing personal experience, they analysed the complexities, aroused while media persons go for covering the areas of conflict. Both of them emphasised that reporters should show extraordinary responsibility and commitment in such situation. For journalists, the issues at the root of the violence are becoming more difficult to understand and to report about.

Furthermore, journalists are being more directly targeted and many of them get killed, injured or go missing in situations marked by armed violence. At the same time, the general lack of knowledge of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Laws creates a situation that prevents reporters from drawing all necessary elements of analysis needed to adequately report about conflict or violent situations, an official statement of the organisers underlined. Citing the source of the International News Safety Institute, where it was reported that 167 journalists were killed in 2006 and altogether 1000 journalists and support staffs had to die on duties during the last 10 years around the globe, the statement also added that the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) highlighted the year 2006 as one of the deadliest years for the profession in the recent past. Quoting the record of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the statement also revealed that 615 journalists had to pay their lives on the job between 1992 and March 2007.

“Apart from the lack of awareness, the other important reason to carry out the task of educating journalists is to ensure their safety during conflicts. There are numerous reports indicating the deterioration of safety of the media staff and increasing numbers of attacks on journalists and their teams in situations of violence. The past decade is illustrative of the growing lack of protection and government inaction towards the protection of journalists that exists in conflicts around the world,” said Sangeetha Rajeesh, the editor of PII, an independent non-profit society founded in 1963.

It may be mentioned that the ICRC had initiated to set up the South-Asian Centre for Journalists Reporting Conflict (SCJRC) at Chennai jointly with PII. The centre, brought up with an aim to ensure protection for the journalists surrounded by conflicts, is designed to contribute in training of journalists allowing them to identify war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide as well as the laws applicable to conflict situations. More over, it is supposed to enlighten the journalists to acquire the ability to identify and report about the nature of armed violence.