Executive Report from CJA International President, Rita Payne
Charlie Hebdo reactionAs we can see from the range of opinions reflected in this newsletter, the killings of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris on January 7 this year were widely condemned but also raised fundamental questions about freedom of expression and the right to offend. There were some who argued that lines should be drawn where religious sensibilities were concerned. Others believed that any limits, self-imposed or otherwise, would lead to self-censorship and undermine freedom of expression.
The CJA was in a fortunate position to be able to collate reactions from our branches. The Press Club of India, a hub for Indian media in New Delhi, organised a demonstration in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo magazine and Indian cartoonists organised an exhibition of their cartoons drawn to protest against the murder of their French counterparts. However, one or two other voices were strongly critical of what Charlie Hebdo represented. Among them was a prominent Indian journalist, Ziya us Salam, who wrote: ‘On one side here was the question of absolute right to freedom of expression, and on the other, yet again, was the stereotyping of the community. For the misguided cartoonists and the proponents of total free speech, faith is only to be lampooned, not appreciated. And if it is the faith of the economically poor and the marginalised, it is better. What Charlie and company stand for is not freedom of expression but sick conformism. “If you are like us, you share our values, you are liberal and modern,” is their message. I exercise my right to differ, to criticise, to expose the shallowness of their argument. They need to get rid of their blinkers, their prejudice’.
For Index on Censorship magazine, Samira Ahmed looked at 15 years of multiculturalism in the UK and how some people’s ideas of it were getting in the way of freedom of expression. She reported on worries among artists, broadcasters and comedians about how religious offence is holding back some performers and producers.
She said: ‘In the UK, local authorities have been all too ready to cave in to pressure under cover of preventing community unrest, maintaining public order or resisting perceived cultural insensitivity. Sensitivity to religious insult, too often conflated with racism, has frequently taken precedence over concern for free expression’.
She concluded: ‘The right to free speech should never be half-hearted. People have the right to be offended, but they don’t have the right to stop others speaking, discussing and debating ideas’.
The Paris killings were horrific and served to highlight dangers faced by journalists everywhere. In November, a Pakistani columnist and former diplomat, Kamran Shafi, spoke to CJA members in London about death threats he was receiving. He said the threats intensified when he criticised former President Musharraf or the army on TV, radio or in his newspaper columns. The messages directed to him and his family were usually sent anonymously in the form of tweets and emails and signed “Khaki Power”…
More general issues relating to journalism were debated at CJA events in London
One of the highlights of 2014 was a panel discussion, An End to Impartiality – reporting with Honesty? The speakers were all leading journalists, the former BBC war correspondent, Martin Bell, the Sunday Times correspondent and author, Christina Lamb, Richard Sambrook, Professor of Journalism, Cardiff University and Parvathi Menon, London correspondent, The Hindu. The chair was former BBC Presenter, Robin Lustig. Richard Sambrook said impartiality is a discipline that acknowledges that journalists have opinions. He opined that in the digital age there was a surfeit of opinions but fewer facts. Christina Lamb, who has reported extensively from Pakistan, said she found people there had become so radicalised that some were convinced that Malala Yusufzai had in fact been shot by her father to feed western anti-Pakistan propaganda. Martin Bell recalled that in his early days as a journalist he was blown away by the gung-ho nature of war. He said you can’t be neutral between those who are armed and those who are not. As a war reporter, he maintained, you hold fast to the facts while being aware of the rights and wrongs. Parvathi Menon said having a point of view should not rule out objectivity. She said she was shocked that anti-war protests in the UK were ignored by the mainstream media; she did not consider this to be impartial.
CJA Executive Director
On matters relating to the CJA, we are very sorry to lose our Executive Director, Pat Perkel, who has decided to step down to pursue other opportunities. Pat has been outstanding, professional, diplomatic and calm under pressure. CJA members were united in expressing sorrow at her decision to leave but we all wish her success with her new projects. Pat has asked me to pass on her thanks for the farewell gift of dinner and theatre tickets organised on our behalf by Chris Cobb and Murray Burt. We are now looking for a replacement for Pat who will be a hard act to follow.
Progress towards planning our next conference has been slow, mainly because of our financial constraints. Our initial proposal to hold the conference in South Africa has been dropped because we were unable to find a partner organisation and do not have a branch there. It was proposed at our last Exco Skype meeting that we should hold it in India. We have assured our team in India that we will all help with the planning. To allow enough time to raise funds and deal with the logistics, Mahendra and Jayanta have proposed that the conference should be held in early 2016. We will keep you updated on developments.
I am delighted to start the New Year with the good news that Google has offered a way out of our funding crisis with a generous contribution which will enable us to continue paying for an Executive Director and our newsletter for at least another two years. This means that Debbie Ransome can continue her excellent work as editor of the newsletter. We are approaching other potential sponsors. If our efforts are successful, we will be able to undertake more ambitious programmes. In the meantime, I urge you again to take advantage of grant opportunities offered by the Commonwealth Foundation and Secretariat and come up with proposals for projects which will promote media freedom, the safety of journalists and strengthen standards of journalism across the Commonwealth.
With this positive news about funding, I would like to wish you all a happy and successful 2015.
President, Commonwealth Journalists Association
Kenya – new security bill
Nigerian journalists advised to be extra vigilant
SABC journalists complain
Egypt President to pardon freed Al Jazeera journalists
Bangladesh TV owner arrested
Bangladesh on countries list of jailed journalists
Indian Hebdo reprint editor arrested
Pakistan Hebdo clash
Threats to journalists in Pakistan
Pakistan journalist’s high profile marriage
Sri Lanka – Press freedom requests made to new President
Malaysian journalists call on government to repeal “offensive” law
MEAA challenge federal snooping proposal
Canadian journalists back new bill
CAJ gets an apology from Federal department
Veteran Grenadian Journalist dies
IPSO will not seek Royal Charter recognition
Photo credit (top): Dominic Alves / cc