LAHORE: The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) will be completing 10 years of its existence on July 2. SAFMA was established at the 1st South Asia Free Media Conference in Islamabad on July 2, 2000.
Since then, it has spread to all eight member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). So far, SAFMA has held seven regional South Asian Free Media Conferences, five SAARC Journalists’ Summits and various sub-regional exchanges to promote free media, peace and regional cooperation.
SAFMA has eight elected national chapters and a regional executive body. It is recognised by SAARC as an associated body. It has established its central secretariat in Lahore. The Action Plan approved by the information ministers of SAARC has been implemented by SAFMA, through establishing the South Asian Media Centre, the South Asian Media Net, the South Asian Journal, the South Asia Media School, journalists’ exchanges and editors’ conferences.
SAFMA has helped establish the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC) in all member countries at the regional level to monitor attacks on the press and audit media content. It has also played a crucial role in establishing the South Asia Women in Media (SAWM) association to mainstream gender issues and ensure greater participation of female journalists. A virtual think-tank and network of experts, academics and researchers has been created which has produced a high-quality research-based South Asian Media series consisting of 13 books on major policy issues facing South Asia. Another set of research-based series consisting of 10 books on important issues is under preparation and is expected to be published by the end of this year and beginning of the next year.
SAFMA has established a South Asia Media Centre in Lahore, besides other national media centres in some countries. In the last SAARC Journalists’ Summit in Bhutan, it proposed the creation of a South Asia Free Media Endowment Fund with possible contribution from the SAARC Development Fund and SAARC member countries. SAFMA has also proposed the creation of scholarships worth $336,000 annually from the respective SAARC countries for young journalists to be trained at the South Asian Media School. The government of Norway has now agreed to support SAFMA until 2013, providing assistance of over $1 million per year. Every chapter must help create the South Asia Media Endowment Fund, besides raising their own funds to meet their expenditures.
The 14th SAARC Summit in April 2007 stressed the need for closer regional cooperation in the field of information and communication technology (ICT). It also directed to take steps on other ICT-enabled fields. The 15th SAARC Summit in August 2008 recognised the importance of connectivity for realising the objectives of SAARC. Things have not moved on these tracks and the SAARC visa exemption scheme has not worked. Media and information remain the most neglected areas despite SAFMA’s persistent efforts and the commitments made by the foreign ministers at SAARC Journalists Summits since 2004. The SAARC visa quota for journalists remains unimplemented in India and Pakistan.
Generally, the issues of connectivity, communication, routes, cross-border linkages, free movement of people, goods and information still remain un-addressed, despite various declarations and recommendations put forward on the relevant forums of SAARC.
Source: Daily Times – 02.07.2010