Saturday, June 21, 2008

Self-Censorship In Refugee Reporting

By: T. P. Mishra
THERE are many ways representing encroachment in a media house, amongst which ‘self-censor’ also exists. The operation of media houses inside Bhutanese refugee camps came to public notice as early as 2000. During the initial days, Bhutanese media practitioners were less trained of professionalism in it. Most of the newspapers and other bulletins published during that period simply served as mouthpieces of political parties or other organizations.

Bhutanese media sector in exile underwent a drastic change after the formation of Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) – Bhutan formally in 2004 comprising young and committed journalists. Since then new media practitioners were engulfed with the concept of maintaining balance and impartiality in the contents--be it newspaper, radio programs, or online they generated.

Now-a-days, some of the media houses such as the Bhutan News Service (BNS), owned by all independent Bhutanese journalists in exile are moving ahead abided by the standard ethics of journalism widely-practiced around the globe. They maintain professionalism in it, though untargeted for any financial profits. Following continuous ‘complications’ both inside and outside the refugee camps, Bhutanese media in exile is undergoing crucial phase in which they are abided by self-censorship.

On the other side, Bhutanese media in exile is under intimidation with the acceleration in the process for third country resettlement. There is divided opinion among individuals and various groups operating inside the refugee camps. When media covers issues related to repatriation, the other groups oppose it and when issues of resettlement are highlighted, pro-repatriation refugees term the media of being advocator of the United States that has coined the offer of third country resettlement.

Local authorities and other concerned agencies including some of the underground revolutionary outfits are also keeping continuous ‘vigilance’ on the Bhutanese media houses in exile. Now, journalists in exile fear to bring some of the issues of greater values to public notice due to existence of self-censorship within them. Besides, they have a sense of fear of being intimidated if they give coverage to such issues.

Of late, even local journalists in Jhapa are displaced from their regular reporting duties citing that they reported the issues related to ‘infiltration’ of non-Bhutanese in the refugee resettlement program. Bhupendra Timsina, Damak-based correspondent for Nepal Samacharpatra daily in an exclusive interview with Saranarthi Sarokar at Nepal FM 91.8 on Saturday June 21, said that separate gangs comprising both refugees and non-Bhutanese threatened him over telephone for reporting on infiltration of non-Bhutanese in refugee resettlement.

Timsina, who had written a news story regarding the infiltration of non-Bhutanese in the refugee resettlement program on June 8 in Nepal Samacharpatra, is mentally disturbed in returning to his normal duties. According to Timsina, attempts are underway from non-Bhutanese to fly to the US in the name of Bhutanese refugees and that a section of refugees are also involved in helping non-Bhutanese for such attempts.

However, in a joint statement issued on June 18, the US Embassy in Kathmandu and UNHCR strongly refuted such news reports thereby clarifying that such reports were unfounded. Here, the main concern is how could the gang threatened Timsina if attempts to ‘infiltration’ are not underway? While respecting the stance of both Embassy and Timsina, we can at least make a predicament that there are possibilities of infiltration even if such cases aren’t found till date. So authorities concerned should be alert in possible infiltration of non-Bhutanese in refugee resettlement.

Free Reporting
Thus, existence of self-censorship within journalists both inside Bhutanese refugee camps and in local areas is still reflected in many forms which should not have happened in democratic country. Free and fearless atmosphere should be created at the earliest so that the journalists are given chances to exercise their right to reporting after erasing the sense of self-censorship within them.

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