Sancharika Samuah (SAS) Nepal in partnership with UNESCO Kathmandu Office organized a half-day Interaction on “Safety of Women Journalists” in Lalitpur on 29 May 2014, with an objective of consolidating the learning from three training events organized in the Eastern, Central and Far Western Development Regions, seeking commitment from the government, cooperation from Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), journalists organizations, media houses, individual journalists and organizations working in the field of rights and freedom of expression to enhance professional safety of women journalists so that they could continue in their profession.
A total of 72 people including representatives from governmental and non-governmental organizations, representing participants from three regional training, journalists from different media institutions and members of SAS participated in the interaction.
The chief guest in the program chaired by Ms Nirmala Sharma, President of SAS, was Dr Minendra Rijal Minister for Information and Communications, key speakers included Mr Laxman Datta Panta, Coordinator, Increasing Safety of Journalists, UNESCO; paper presenter Ms Babita Basnet, Former President of SAS; commentator Mr Laxman Humagain, General Manager, Nepal Television; Ms Pabitra Sunar, Reporter with Nagarik daily; Ms Manisha Chand, one of the trainees from the Far Western Development Region; Ms Anita Rai, one of the trainees from the Eastern Development Region; Ms Madhuri Mahato, one of the trainees from the Central Development Region; Ms Subekshya Bindu, President, Working Women Journalist (WWJ); Dr Mahendra Bista, President, FNJ; Mr Borna Bahadur Karki, President, Press Council Nepal; and Ms Anita Bindu, Vice President of FNJ.
Ms Nitu Pandit, General Secretary of SAS, emceeing the program said that safety of women journalists was closely related with the safety of journalists as a whole, but apart from being a journalist, women face more problems than their male counterparts. The interaction began with the seating of the chief guest, guests, participants and chairing of the session.
Ms Sharma welcoming all the guests and participants informed that SAS in partnership with UNESCO Kathmandu Office had conducted three training in three development regions in Safety of Women Journalists and trained 60 mid-career working women journalists. She also expressed best wishes on the occasion of Republican Day and recalled that journalists had played an important role in introducing the republican polity in Nepal.
She said that journalists have been attacked not just for carrying out their duties, but also not following the code of conduct. Thanking the minister for his commitment to the issues of women journalists, she said that safety program had tried to incorporate both physical and professional safety of women journalists. Synthesizing the learning from different training, she said there is a need for providing safety to women journalists and informed that SAS would formulate a strategy for the safety of women journalists drawing from the experiences of training, working journalists, and today's deliberations.
She urged the minister, terming him a very press-friendly person, to take initiative to improve the situation of journalists and women journalists in particular and secure the profession of female journalists in the government entities and pointed out the absence of women journalists in Press Council Nepal. Although the environment is becoming increasingly friendly for women journalists but it is difficult to retain them, she added.
Mr Laxman Datta Panta, spoke about the efforts made by UNESCO in Nepal and elsewhere to protect journalists and expected concrete requirements spelled out by participants in three training and from deliberation that day. He added that five countries, Mexico, South Sudan, Nepal, Iraq and Pakistan were among those which had poor safety of journalists. In Nepal physical and professional safety issues have got momentum, but there some unresolved issues like minimum pay which is directly related with professional safety of Nepalese journalists. Many Nepalese laws are compatible with international legal instruments to which Nepal is a signatory or state party, but the existing laws have not been implemented effectively, he said.
While discussing about the physical safety of journalists in general and women journalists in particular, we should not forget about impunity. As long as impunity continues, self-censorship will be there and it undermines the very spirit of the freedom of expression and rule of law. Therefore, physical and professional safety should be compared with international legal instruments in order to improve the situation we are ready to facilitate and partner with the government of Nepal, he added.
Ms Babita Basnet, presenting a paper on 'Safety of Journalists: International Initiative and National Scenario' said that she would focus on the safety of women journalists only instantiates a dangerous reporting, and a vandalized car in Afghan border in which a female journalist called Anja was killed and Cathy was injured.
Emphasizing on the need for a strict following of journalists code of conduct issued by the Press Council Nepal, she said that many attacks on journalists can be minimized if they are not involved in other trades fronting journalism. Physical and professional safety is the main concern today which can be enhanced through more training. For women journalists late night work is riskier as they fall prey to sexual abuse and rape and physical safety of journalists should be the responsibility primarily of the state and also of civil society, journalists' organizations, etc.
She recommended that journalists should be aware of their safety, be cautions while moving during night, be trained in physical safety, should strictly follow code of conduct, should not be involved in other professions, and concerned agencies should also be sensitive towards the safety of journalists.
Comment on paper
Mr Laxman Humagain, commenting on the paper said that it was good working paper as she had a long experience in the field of journalism. He laid emphasis on increasing attack on journalists all over the world as the perpetrators want to stop journalists from disseminating the truth and the culprits go unpunished, it has initiated a serious debate across the globe. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), nine out of ten attackers on journalists got impunity. Safety of journalists is essential for freedom of expression and freedom expression for the promotion of development and democracy.
In Nepal, journalism evolved only after the popular movement of 1990, and hence journalism and democracy are considered but two sides of a coin. Extreme minority, only 10 percent women journalists, has become another problem for their safety. Whose responsibility is it to protect journalists as the safety of media house is ensured by the law? We have taken initiative to reduce violence against women journalists by installing CCTV in news rooms.
Reproductive rights of women journalists should be ensured by the concerned media house, it should provide transportation facility for at least late night workers, designate a focal point (a woman journalist) for hearing the complaints of female journalists to retain them in the profession. Likewise, family acceptance is another crucial part in the safety. Once married, women may not be accepted by their new families as journalists. Deprivations, stress, influence, low pay for women journalists, discrimination in assigning beat are other discouraging factors that need solution.
Ms Pabitra Sunar said that her health beat was snatched away just because of being a woman as men constantly think that women are inferior to them women are attacked professionally and physically. She outlined two major problems of women journalists: economic and recognition. They discriminate against us in assigning reporting, beat and writing editorials. Junior male reporters are easily promoted but even senior female are not, she added.
Sharing by trained journalists
Ms Manisha Chand, from Far Western Development Region, said that people think that women are easily intimidated and we are threatened if we carried news related to corruption or violence against women. Along with professional safety, physical safety of female journalists is very weak. I have been threatened many times, she said.
Anita Rai, Eastern Development Region, thanked SAS for giving her an opportunity to learn about professional and physical safety of women journalists through training and the interaction. Only after the training I came to know that most of the physical insecurity is result of not following the journalists' code of conduct. She also said that the feature writing training given by SAS had supported her to be in the profession. Even today after gaining experience, major positions are occupied by men as a result women disappear from the profession, she said.
Ms Madhuri Mahato, Central Development Region, said that women journalists are spied on by the society if they go out for reporting, male colleagues misbehave in the office, there are discriminations in workplace, and media houses are not women-friendly. The state should protect women journalists and for this minimum wage should be guaranteed and the implementation of laws relating to the safety and rights of journalists should be monitored effectively.
Open floor discussion
Ms Yashoda Timsina of Nepal Weekly said that women have to look after household chores; an editor cannot be lenient to low performance, but create an environment friendly to women. Good reporting on any beat or issue is worth paying. Mr Kalendra Sejuwal has got Rs 100,000 cash prize covering issues of uterus removal in Surkhet. Extremely low salary of Rs 10,000 a month for a journalist is unfair and should raised to at least Rs 15,000 as demanded by the FNJ. She also urged the minister to immediately introduce the Communication Policy.
Sanchita Ghimire of Rajdhani daily said that women face hurdle right from entering the profession. It is extremely difficult to get a job unless you have some connection in high places which is occupied by men. If a woman enters through some connection, she is discredited. It is widely perceived that women can be silenced easily. She demanded for 33 percent representation of women in the media institutions including the government-run media. She also urged the minister to renew the contract of women journalists shunning political biasness.
Gajur Dhan Rai of Nepal TV said that the state should be responsible for policy-related work; FNJ should take the lead to protect journalists. He also said that Federation of National Indigenous Journalists (FONIJ) had been training journalists focusing on women to increase their number.
Laxmi Rumba said that because of biological difference, it has been difficult for women to enter and continue in journalism. Private media houses are not as friendly as government ones. Women journalists lose their job after child bearing, face discrimination in pay, are physically and mentally harassed.
Shiva Gaunle, former president of FNJ, suggested to differentiate between discrimination and violence and pointed out the need for more investment in media as a new agenda, if there is no further investment, problems remain the same.
Bina Sinha said that economic insecurity was the big problem for women journalists. When I asked for a pay, I was forced to leave the profession, and my office was vandalized when I wrote an article on Sino-Nepal issue, no one protected me, she said. Madhesi women journalists should be provided equal opportunity and the government should guarantee minimum pay.
Yashoda Adhikari said that women journalists are forced to work as stringers on an extremely low pay in government media institutions. A delegation of women journalists to the Prime Minister's Office were told first not to be married and then if married not to bear children. How women could enter and continue their profession where the government is so insensitive to women, she questioned.
Mr Yadu Prasad Panthi, Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communications, said that the ministry had frequently been asking journalists to provide suggestions to the draft of Communication Policy. He also said that the ministry had already sought suggestions from FNJ and Press Council Nepal and once suggestions are in, they would finalize the policy and implement it.
Ms Subechha Bindu, President of Working Women Journalists (WWJ), citing an FNJ report said that there have been callous incidents: a woman journalist was raped by the source of news, a Nepal Telecom official, the case was ongoing, and drew the attention of the minister to take action against the person. She also spoke about an incident in which an editor raped a reporter, she became pregnant, has given birth to a daughter and is living an extremely difficult life. She said that SAS and WWJ should work together to end such atrocities.
Anita Bindu, Vice President of FNJ, urged the minister resolve the problems of female journalists such as no maternal leave, impact on promotion after maternal leave, workplace harassment, harassment on the way home, men may be robed of their belongings, but female may be raped. So the case of female journalists are more serious compared to their male counterparts, she added.
Mr Borna Bahadur Karki, President of Press Council Nepal, suggested introducing Communication Policy to increase the number and retain women journalists. Making them competent is another challenge because women journalists themselves think that they cannot remain in the profession for long. The state should make provision for reservation for women journalists and at least one top position should be reserved for woman journalists, he suggested.
Dr Mahendra Bista, President of FNJ emphasized on categorizing problems. By the end of this fiscal year, all journalists should get appointment letter and minimum salary. Those media institutions that ignore it, should be barred from state facilities. He also suggested to handle the cases of violence against women journalists case-wise, and offered FNJ support where needed. He also said that the FNJ was going to review media policy.
Dr Minendra Rijal, Minister for Information and Communications, thanked SAS for inviting and suggested that common problems should be raised by the FNJ and SAS should focus on specific issues. He said that he was ready to discuss frankly in terms of minimum pay and barrier to entry. 'I am ready to discuss on merit, if people are working on contract for many years we should make mechanism for their promotion,' he said.
'I cannot guarantee minimum wage and safety particularly in terms of private sector, they won't listen to us. Harassment, threat, attack against women journalists are real problems, some female political leaders said that sexual harassment to women was surprisingly high, but you should be specific on such issue like that of a telecom official's involved in a rape case. We will pay special attention and cooperate with you, wholesale comments do not help solving a problem,' he added.
'I have seen your 11-point declaration, many things can be done. I will inform the FNJ to discuss on those issues and on work place safety; I can sit with you for discussion. The Ministry is finalizing a Communication and Broadcasting Policy. I invite female journalists to discuss on it and solve the problems,' he assured.
The chair thanked all and wrapped up the program.