South Asia: new report details attacks against journalists and challenges across the region

  • 04 May 2023

The International Federation of Journalists has published a new report on behalf of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN).

“Pressure & Polarisation: Powering Media Resistance in South Asia" explores the impact of the pandemic, digital disruption and increasing political and societal polarisation on South Asia's media industry.

The report also highlights the plight of Afghan journalists exiled in Pakistan and considers how freedom of expression has been curbed across the region.  

From 1 May 2022 to 30 April 2023, the IFJ recorded 257 media rights violations and 13 journalists and media workers were targeted and killed. At least 76 journalists were imprisoned or detained, and over 163 intimidated and harassed, including by law enforcement officers. At time of publication, at least 10 journalists remain imprisoned.

On 11 March, the Islamic State’s parcel bomb attack killed two journalists and injured 30 people celebrating Afghanistan’s National Journalist’s Day at the Tabian Cultural Centre.

Afghanistan's media has significantly reduced, with an estimated 192 functioning media houses in the country, previously 579. Less than half of the 476 radio networks are functioning and 80 per cent of women lost their jobs in the radio sector.

In Pakistan, the number of journalists has reduced by approximately 45 per cent amid widespread job uncertainty. There has also been a decline in audiences from television and radio, with many switching to digital media.

In the Maldives and across the region more widely, some journalists have self-censored in fear of being labelled as hostile, anti-national, anti-Islamist, or secularist. The SAMSN report highlights that polarisation has been reflected in the media.

Although lack of access to information, regulation of the digital space and control by those who own the media has all impacted the ability of journalists to carry out their work, there have been signs of progression within the industry. Digital news media has become more robust in the region with organisations exploring ways to pivot from print and innovate in the process.

For many, including the 500 Afghan journalists who fled to Pakistan when the Taliban came to power in August 2021, concern remains about personal safety. Financial hardship, health related challenges and issues with visa renewals have also been reported.

The IFJ said:

“In 2023, South Asia has seen many grave threats to press freedom and democratic institutions, with government overreach, violence, and jailings marring the region’s media landscape. Despite this, brave journalists are continuing to push back and speak out against polarisation, to tell the truth, shine a light, and defend hard-fought fundamental freedoms.

“It is more important than ever that we, as media workers, take stock of the challenges for media freedom and the safety of journalists, raise awareness and foster partnerships to defend media from attacks, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their work.”

Read Pressure & Polarisation: Powering Media Resistance in South Asia

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