Reporting on minority issues in Asia under threat, conference attendees claim

Commercial pressures and government suppression cited at gathering of investigative journalists

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 October, 2016, 6:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 October, 2016, 6:14pm

As mainstream media feel increasing commercial and government pressure across Asia, reporting on the millions who are considered minorities in the region is being neglected.

That was the observation shared by participants at the Second Investigative Journalism Conference held in Nepal last month.

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Journalists are still active in certain conflict zones such as Rakhine state in Myanmar where the government’s discrimination against the Rohingya minority has put pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto head of government, they said. But many situations are underreported.

Malini Subramaniam, a freelance journalist with years of experience covering India’s Chhattisgarh state, detailed the difficulty of reporting lesser-known conflicts, particularly a Maoist insurgency in the country that over the past 16 years has claimed nearly 14,000 lives, half of them civilians.

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“There are a lot of difficulties for journalists covering the Maoist insurgency in India beyond the official version,” she said. “Local news is constantly suppressed ... because the government doesn’t want the larger world to know there is a conflict situation in India.”

Local news is constantly suppressed ... because the government doesn’t want the larger world to know there is a conflict situation
Malini Subramaniam, on reporting in India

In contrast with the conflict in Kashmir, there is “little awareness” about the decades-long unrest in India’s “Red Corridor”, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organisation that awarded an International Press Freedom Award to Subramaniam this year.

She said it had become commonplace for police and pro-police vigilante groups to interrogate, harass, and label her a Maoist agent.

Similarly, two Thai journalists were looking for ways to use online platforms to spread news about underreported ethnic conflicts in the restive southern region of their country.

Both journalists declined to be identified and said there was more flexibility online for running in-depth stories in locations with substandard communication networks as doing so in print would certainly cause them to miss their publishing deadlines.

One told of new ways to report in areas tightly controlled by government forces fighting the country’s separatist insurgency. Officials have claimed the insurgents are behind recent fatal bombings in Thailand.

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“We train some of the locals in journalism,” the journalist said. “We then meet them farther away from the conflict zone and collect their information, and then we send the materials back to Bangkok.”

While government suppression of reporting and a lack of interest by international media continue to frustrate some passionate journalists, the conference attendees said, changes were being made by individuals on the ground that take advantage of increasing interconnectivity to report on minority issues to the wider world.