Dialogue with the Journalists and Human Rights Defenders – “Working together for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights”

“Journalism is more challenging for the female members. I have experience in crime reporting where I had to face the gender biasness and disparity. Still women are harassed in working place either verbally or other way. I think in rural area things are worse compared to urban area” Nahid Tonmoy a Dhaka based journalist shared her thoughts and experience as a female journalist during a dialogue with journalists and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), organized by ASK. The two days long dialogue with 25 journalists and human rights defenders from both local and national level held in 16-17 October, 2017 at Brac Center Inn, Dhaka.

The dialogue started with the welcome remarks by Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK). In her words, most of the participants are playing dual roles; professionally they are working as journalists and at the same time they are acting as human rights defenders when they do reporting on human rights violations. She expressed her utmost gratitude to them for their efforts and hard work. Roushan Jahan Parvin, Senior Deputy Director, ASK briefed the program agenda to the participants. She recalled the contribution of the participants saying that it’s pleasure to be connected with you all from the grassroots level to the national level.

Abu Ahmed Faijul Kabir, Coordinator, ASK and Tamanna Hoq Riti, Assistant Coordinator, ASK facilitated the introductory session, titled, “Understanding Human Rights concept and the underlying principles”. The session focused on the concept of human rights, its developments, differences between HRs and Crime, and national and international human rights mechanisms. Ahmed Ali, a Dhaka based renowned journalist facilitated the session highlighting “Current Human Rights Issues in National and International Arena: Role of Media”. He addressed the absence of the working democracy in Bangladesh at the present times as key factor in obstruction of media roles. He advised participants to obey the moral guidelines of journalism and show accountability to society by reporting neutrally. Kamal Ahmed, a prominent journalist conducted the session on the “Role of Journalists as Human Rights Defenders”. According to him, journalist should play the role of watch dog. He suggested that journalists should be more vigilant and active during reporting the human rights issues. They should ask the questions more effectively to find out the best results. Deep knowledge should be ensured by proper investigation. Experts’ consultation may be effective tool for ensuring authenticity of the news. Journalists should take stand beside the victims and help to get justice. Besides, legal protection is needed for the journalist to work freely beyond fear or pressure. Access to information act may be a useful source of information for reporting. Saiful Alam Chowdhury, Assistant Professor, Department of Mass Media and Journalism, University of Dhaka facilitated the session on “Freedom of expression and freedom of press”. According to him, governments often welcome criticism in the democratic world but our practice is different in Bangladesh. Though Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh provides freedom of expression but it’s subject to some limitations. In reality our journalists and HRDs often face harassment from both state and non-state actors. Besides, citizens should keep in mind that we cannot enjoy our freedom by violating others.

It was reflected from the discussion with participants that journalism in local and national level is different from one another. Security is a big concern for rural journalism. Often they are subjected to mental and physical assaults by the aggrieved groups. Lastly, Subarna Dhar, Senior Programme Organizer, media and international advocacy, ASK in a participatory session with the participants discussed about the role the participants can play as Human Rights Defender. “Your commitment motivates us to work more efficiently” Sheepa Hafiza mentioned in her closing remarks.