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Conflict, Media and Human Rights in South Asia (2011)

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Introduction

Conflict, Media and Human Rights in South Asia - Report from a Roundtable

Securing peace and ending armed conflict and indiscriminate acts of violence against civilians present significant challenges to peace and the protection of human rights in South Asia and around the world. Central to an effective response to this challenge is to understand how public discourse, especially within the media, can be steered towards enabling a more transparent, well-informed policy response with positive human rights outcomes. A discussion that critically reflects on the South Asian scenario is timely and pertinent, given contemporary South Asian realities: the post-conflict situation in Sri Lanka; insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East of India; the turmoil in Pakistan over the blasphemy law and other issues; the political tensions in Nepal; and the struggle in Bangladesh to deepen democracy. All of this is happening in a context where the media has become increasingly commercialised and simultaneously subject to state controls of various kinds.

The Kathmandu Roundtable on Conflict, the Media and Human Rights in South Asia (jointly organised by the International Council on Human Rights Policy, the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and PANOS South Asia) brought together senior media professionals, social scientists, peace and human rights advocates, and security analysts (see Appendix A) to consider how conflict, peace and human rights questions are discussed in the public domain, especially in the media, in South Asia. The Roundtable was held in Kathmandu on 20 and 21 November 2010.

The Roundtable was intended to strengthen ongoing efforts towards developing a more layered representation of internal conflicts in South Asia, so as to include human rights concerns. The discussions were aimed at developing a better understanding of the nature of the state, media and civil society interactions and dynamics in the region, which have such a significant impact on public discourse and policy. Hence, in addition to analysing and questioning the dominant vocabularies within the media on contemporary conflicts in the region, the Roundtable also intended to enable consideration of working towards a plural media that reflects the diverse positions on these conflicts.

This report presents, succinctly, some of the most important issues and questions discussed at the Roundtable. While it broadly reflects the structure of the agenda, it is not a detailed record of discussions at the Roundtable. On the contrary, it focuses on some of the most important broad themes of the discussion and seeks to present important insights emerging from the discussions relevant to these themes. The report also includes brief contributions from some of the participants on specific issues.

At the outset, it might help to clarify the perspectives that framed the Roundtable discussions in considering the place of the media in the construction of the discourse on conflict in South Asia. The media is not an institution that mirrors a given reality ‘out there’; if that were the case then the kind of questions one would ask would be different – for example, objectivity and reliability would be an important focus. Rather, in this Roundtable, the focus was on critically examining how the media imagines specific versions of reality, within given and dynamic relations of power and resistance. Such a perspective underlines the need to understand what are the exclusions, the taken for granted terms of debate, the unspoken and unquestioned premises, the ‘normal’ space from which the media gazes at the world of conflict. This perspective eschews an assessment of how true to reality the media are; rather, it seeks to map the ways in which the media both reproduces and questions the dominant framings of conflict.

Read Conflict, Media and Human Rights in South Asia – Report from a Roundtable. A summary is also available.

For ICHRP reports related to the topic: