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New Delhi: regional editors discuss media responses to conflict

30-03-2006 News Release

At a seminar in the Indian capital, senior media figures from around the region have discussed the media’s role and responsibilities in situations of conflict, state responses, legal issues and humanitarian aspects of reporting.

Opening a regional seminar for senior editors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma told them: " All conflicts arise in the minds of men and that is where they need to be tackled. The impact the media makes in influencing the mind is so great and it can make all the difference. "

Three separate themes were considered during the seminar that was conducted at the India International Centre on 28-29 March in the presence of more than 200 journalist students and teachers from Delhi and beyond.

The first session considered Modern conflict, international law and state responses to terrorism. While discussing the legal arrangements under international law for journalists in conflict areas, native-Indian and now Melbourne University law professor Bruce Oswald concluded: " The protection afforded to journalists by the Geneva Conventions are clearly inadequate. Today there remain a number of challenges and tensions facing journalists working in war zones or dangerous areas, including developing more effective protections for journalists…. "

Discussing the negative role that the media could have in contributing to tension between states, the Lahore-based Friday Times editor Najam Sethi said: " More and more editors are becoming aware that undue coverage should not be given to certain events. "

The second session considered The media role in humanitarianism – reporting the effects of war on humankind. The award-winning deputy editor of The Hindu , Siddharth Varadarajan, captured the spirit of this session when he pronounced: " It is obvious that the media can and does fan the flame of conflict. It all depends on the degree that the media decides to be professional. " He went on to explain: " Fidelity to the truth is absolutely central to the profession. Its accurate reporting is in the best interests of all participants to a conflict. There should be an increased follow-up by the media to let the glare of publicity remain longer on violations. There is also a need to give more voice to those who seek peaceful solutions. "

The session reflected positively on the way that the media can influence humanitarian considerations during conflict by reporting the personal angle on suffering. Rahimullah Yusufzai, Peshawar bureau chief of The News International and long-time reporter on the Afghan conflict, summed up this approach: " The media should focus more on the humanitarian issues of conflict. This has been a problem in the past due to the lack of access to conflict areas for journalists and their obsession with the political aspects of conflicts. "

The final session considered The roles and responsibilities of the media in conflict reporting – watchdog or lapdog? and generated some lively debate. When discussing perspectives on independence and ethics, Raj Chengappa, editor of India Today , stated: " All we can do is provide perspectives on truth. The states and other participants need to decide that the media is out there to seek the truth and therefore must be given a chance. "

In concluding the seminar, the director of the Press Institute of India, Arun Chacko, summed up the feeling: " It is clear that as a journalist you have the power to s peak to the people. However, with that power also comes responsibility – responsibility not to use that power to harm individuals or groups within your society. "

He continued: " As journalists we have to resist the temptation of misusing our power as opinion makers in society – as much as we have to resist attempts to strangle the truth or to prevent access to information. This can make reporting a difficult and dangerous job. However, understanding the ethics of good journalism can help. "

Many agreed that further seminars, such as those conducted by the ICRC and designed to better educate journalists in international humanitarian law and human rights, would contribute positively to the accurate reporting of armed conflict.

 A transcript of the seminar, based on voice recording, will be published in late April. Contact the Communication Coordinator, ICRC regional delegation for South Asia, New Delhi; tel. (++91 11) 2435 23 38 - 2435 43 94, fax: (++91 11) 2435 07 23 - 2435 32 50.