The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) yesterday adopted a 14-point 'Dhaka Declaration' which stressed on upholding participatory democracy, freedom of expression and the right to dissent.
The declaration called for striving for peace within and between nations of South Asia and securing the diversion of resources from wasteful acquisition of arms to public interest projects.
More than 160 SAFMA journalists participated in the two-day regional conference which concluded yesterday. SAFMA called for efforts to discourage preaching of hatred, distortion of national characters, xenophobia, cultural chauvinism, racism, caste-based discrimination and exploitation of the poor and marginalised.
It urged all to fight violence and terrorism that undermines both democracy and freedom of media.
The declaration appealed for all to resist authoritarianism and religious extremism in any form. It urged South Asians to reject the demonisation of the 'others' as an instrument of perpetuating conflicts.
The SAFMA document stressed the need to foster professionalism and transparency in the media and to develop intra- and interstate solidarity among media persons in order to resist intimidation and violence by anti-democratic forces.
Apart from enlarging the right to freedom of information for the media, the SAFMA declaration appealed for all to raise a bulwark against intra-media forces and tendencies that support or strengthen the vested interests' assaults on democracy and media freedom.
The SAFMA declaration observed that India, widely hailed as a secular democracy, has been threatened by forces of communalism and religious bigotry. An established tradition of press freedom is being threatened by a growing criminalisation of politics and abuse of judicial practice. These factors weaken India's pluralistic civil society and by that token, sap the foundations of democracy itself, it said.
Referring to Pakistan, it said the state's return to democratic path was doubly squeezed by the forces of authoritarianism and religious extremism. The SAFMA perceived that such a situation would result in extremely grievous consequences to people's right to representative government and their basic freedom.
It said efforts are needed to strengthen the gains of people's struggle for self-determination and democracy in Bangladesh, and the major political forces need to arrive at a closer understanding and cooperation to ensure basic right of the people, especially the disadvantaged.
The SAFMA declaration said prospects for consolidation of democratic institutions, pluralism and respect for human rights still remain unclear in Sri Lanka. But the suspension of hostilities and the process of negotiations have set the country on the road to peace, it said.
About Nepal, it said the disruption of the democratic system is threatening to erase people's right secured through the democratic revolution of 1990.