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Governments and state media in Southeast Asia touted improving media liberty on World Press Freedom Day Friday, but critics were swift to point out limits on expression and the jailing of many journalists across the region.
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye said in a statement that celebration alone to mark the day would be an insufficient way to observe a day created by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to assess the state of press freedom worldwide, defend the media from attacks on independence and pay tribute to journalists who have died in the line of duty.
“Autocrats and demagogues too often denigrate the press, with dire consequences for safety, for democracy, and for the public’s right to know,” Kaye said in the statement.
“Today more than ever, we need not just generic celebrations, but concrete steps to improve press freedom worldwide,” he said.
The UN statement highlighted the case of two Reuters reporters in Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who last month were denied their final appeals and must serve the remainder of their seven-year-sentences.
They were arrested in December 2017 while pursuing a story about the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims during a brutal military-led crackdown in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Authorities detained them shortly after two policemen with whom they had dinner in Yangon handed them state documents related to the atrocities, in what was widely viewed as a police setup.
The statement indicated that press freedom in many parts of Asia is severely lacking, including in China where “basic rights to seek, receive and impart information hardly exist.”
The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.”
UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, currently in the midst of an 11-day visit to the country, posted her thoughts about the state of press freedom under Hun Sen’s regime.
“I am concerned that Cambodia has slipped further one point to 143 over the last year, after falling 10 points from 132 the previous year in the Reporters without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedoms Index,” she wrote.
She also gave advice to Cambodia’s government on ways to improve.
“I encourage the Government to provide the space for a free media, both offline and online, including through the adoption and implementation of the draft Law on Access to Information,” she wrote.
“I also repeat my encouragement to lift the charges against the two former RFA journalists,” she added, referring to Uon Chhin and Yeang Socheameta, who were arrested in November 2017 on suspicion of continuing to provide news about Cambodia to RFA after the U.S.-funded media outlet closed its office in Cambodia that September.
Cambodia’s fall one spot in the RSF index to 143, was matched by those of neighbor Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar, which each fell one step. In a year-on-year comparison for 2018, Laos fell one spot from 170 to 171, Vietnam fell one spot from 175 to 176, and Myanmar fell one spot from 137 to 138.
Meas Sophoan, a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Information told RFA’s Khmer Service that Information Minister Khieu Kanharith held a press conference to mark the day where he said that press freedom is getting better each day within the kingdom.
The spokesman added that broadcast and print media are on the rise, and the country is showing how it respects human rights and press freedom, offering the press conference itself as an indication that press freedom is important to the regime.
But Long Kimmaryta, a journalist for a bilingual newspaper in Phnom Penh disagreed, saying that reporters and the press must now self-censor, after the government arrested reporters.
She said writing criticism about the government is risky in the current climate.
“If we were to write positive stories about the government, then sources within the government are happier to talk to us,” she said, adding that journalists in Cambodia can only write stories if they feel their safety isn’t threatened.
Meanwhile in neighboring Laos, the deputy editor of the government-published Vientiane Times told RFA’s Lao Service, “I think we have all kinds of freedoms because we have media laws guaranteeing those freedoms, including the freedom to write news and freedom of expression.”
“We want to improve and upgrade our reporters’ knowledge and skills and we also need to diversify the way we [source] content for our news stories,” said Deputy Editor Phonekeo Vorlakoun.
“Of course, as reporters, we want to respond to the needs of our people,” he said.
The deputy editor’s comments were contradicted by a local reporter stationed in Sanamxay district, Attapeu province who is covering the lasting damage caused by last year’s disaster at a nearby dam which claimed the lives of hundreds and has been described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades.
“All news stories, even those on technical matters, must be approved by the leadership of the district and the province before we can publish anything,” said the reporter.
An official of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism agreed with the reporter saying, “The government will never force us to do anything, or order us how to do this or that, but if they say we can’t publish the story, we can’t publish it.”
A citizen of Vientiane gave insight on how the people gain access to reliable news in the country.
“If we need to speak out or want to know what’s going on, we use Facebook. We can’t’ rely on state TV, radio or newspapers because it’s too slow, inaccurate and restricted,” said the citizen.
Facebook in Vietnam
But Facebook has also been the target of criticism, particularly for bowing to the whims of governments looking to restrict the public’s access to information, such as in Vietnam.
According to an open letter to Facebook from 10 free expression and human rights organizations in Vietnam, the social networking behemoth has been blocking access to content on the request of the Vietnamese government.
The letter said that Vietnam’s 64 million Facebook users use Facebook as their primary news source, citing the absence of independent media within the country.
“On January 1, a restrictive “cybersecurity” law went into effect in Vietnam but the desire of Vietnamese to stay connected and build community has not changed,” said the rights groups in the letter, signed by Reporters Without Borders, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Viet Tan and other groups.
“The Vietnamese government may want foreign companies to set up local data servers, censor content, and turn over private user data — but it’s up to Facebook to ultimately decide whether it will uphold human rights or not,” they said.
The letter cited Facebook as saying that blocked content was based on “local legal restrictions,” but urged the company and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg to not become “complicit in the human rights violations of authoritarian governments such as Vietnam’s.”
Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur, “States must move beyond words, beyond resolutions and take immediate and sustainable action to ensure safety of journalists, the independence of the media, the plurality of voices.”
“That is the challenge of the coming year: translating celebration into action, stigmatizing and penalizing those that attack journalism, and devoting resources to the great project of media freedom.” (RFA)
Final preparations are in full swing at Six Senses Fort Barwara which will host the much talked about wedding of celebrity couple Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif.
According to sources, the event company working for this wedding has procured crystal balls and chandeliers from abroad to give a royal look to the wedding. These will be installed in the hotel soon.
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Six Senses Hotel has also parked indicator vehicles on the road at frequent intervals for the guests to reach the hotel easily. A glass 'mandap' has been prepared and decorated in Rajwada style for the couple to take 'pheres' (rounds around the fire) as per Hindu rituals. Moreover, the glass carvings on the mandap is such that it creates an optical illusion.
This wedding ceremony will be held amidst tight security arrangements. Secret codes have been given to each of the guests, so that it is impossible to know which guest is staying in which room.
Mobile phones have been banned inside the venue. International photographers have been hired to shoot the entire wedding. The ceremonies will be held from December 7 to December 9, with bouncers and police personnel looking after the security arrangements. As many as 100 bouncers have arrived from Jaipur to look after security arrangements at the wedding.
Katrina and Vicky's wedding is to be solemnized on December 9.Unsplash
Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif's outfits have been designed in Mumbai which they will wear during different wedding ceremonies.
As per information, Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal are scheduled to reach Hotel Six Senses Fort Barwara located at Chauth Ka Barwara, by 9 p.m. on Monday, via car from Jaipur where both are expected to receive a grand welcome by the hotel management.
Along with Vicky and Katrina, their family members too will reach the hotel on Monday. However, some close family members and other guests will reach the venue separately. Katrina's sister Natasha and friends reached Jaipur airport on Monday afternoon from where they left for the wedding venue by car.
Katrina and Vicky's wedding is to be solemnized on December 9. (IANS/SP)
(Keywords : wedding, Bollywood, Vicky Kaushal, Katrina Kaif, Rajasthan, hotel, Fort Barwara, ceremony, photographer, bouncer, outfit)
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Meta-owned WhatsApp on Monday announced an incubator programme in India that will select 10 organisations and help them build digital solutions to tackle critical health issues.
Called the WhatsApp Incubator Programme (WIP), the initiative aims to facilitate positive and measurable health outcomes at scale by leveraging the WhatsApp Business Platform.
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"During the pandemic we have seen several innovative use cases of the WhatsApp Business Platform by government organisations, civic actors, city administrations and many more NGOs, both large and small, across sectors and locations," said Abhijit Bose, Head of WhatsApp India.
The selected organisations will also be provided with technical support in order to design, prototype and pilot their health use cases.Unsplash
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"We hope the WhatsApp Incubator Programme brings forth more such innovative and unique solutions that will help solve India's healthcare needs," he said in a statement.
The selected organizations will also be provided with technical support in order to design, prototype and pilot their health use cases.
The company said that participating organizations get the opportunity to be mentored by industry experts, access on-ground ecosystems, receive support with impact measurement guidance, and a chance to network with funders to scale their use cases.
The programme, for which applications are open till December 24, is being administered by Quicksand Design Studio, WhatsApp said. (IANS/SP)
(Keywords : Whatsapp, incubator, organizations, digital, health, business, pandemic, innovative, technical)
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By D.C. Pathak
Advent of Biden Presidency with its resonating calls of 'America is back', 'we will repair our alliances' and 'will engage with the world once again' on one hand and the rise of President Xi Jinping with a stronger hold on China after the Plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of CPC, on the other, have got strategic analysts to examine if a new Cold War was already on the horizon.
India has to define its stand and negotiate its international policy keeping in view the nation's best interests of the long run. Sino- Pak military alliance that chiefly worked against India, natural friendship between the two largest democracies of the world and the need for a rapid advancement of our Defence capabilities, are the major paradigms that should determine India's approach to both development and security.
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Xi Jinping is implementing a two- fold strategy of seeking the economic route to becoming the second superpower and pursuing 'Sinicisation of Marxism' to define the future of Communist China. In a huge give and take between the Godless dictatorship of China and the fundamentalist regime of Pakistan, the former has invested on CPEC located on the territory of PoK ceded by Pakistan to China in the face of the Indian protests and got an opening into the Muslim world where sympathy for Islamic radicals has been on the rise.
Pakistan is close to the pro- US group led by Saudi Arabia and yet has a good equation with Islamic radical organizations represented by Taliban. With one leg in the camp of 'revivalists' -- Pakistan -- it mediated between the US and the Taliban on Afghanistan -- would be in a position to assure the Chinese that the Cold War game of the West using Pak-Afghan region to 'radicalise' Muslims of Xinjiang and other parts of China, would not be allowed. The axis of the two principal adversaries of India has become very active after the Indian Parliament scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019 and converted J&K and Ladakh into union territories. India had successfully evolved a strategy of dealing with both China and Pakistan together.
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It needs to be recalled that China drew the best lessons from the demise of the USSR -- it could clearly see that the Soviet regime had become an oligarchy that ignored the internal economic decline because of which it was not able to sustain the war in Afghanistan. This led Deng Xiaoping to adopt the policy of opening the Chinese market to the world in a controlled fashion and thus initiate a process of faster economic growth on which China has not looked back. China has become the second biggest global economy by investing in markets abroad and accessing technological knowledge wherever it was available -- including the research work of the US universities where it established 'Chairs' to reach out to the same.
Xi Jinping combines the persona of Deng and Mao Zedong and while consolidating Chinese economy further, he has reverted to the concept of supremacy of the Communist Party of China as the symbol of Marxism. This has helped him, among other things, to keep his leadership going on the strength of ideology and project it as something that was free of any personal vested interest. The recent conference of the Central Committee of CPC credited Xi Jinping with achievement of the first Centennial goal of making China a 'moderately prosperous society' by 2021 -- the hundredth year of the party's existence and acknowledged his pledge to make China a 'great modern Socialist country' by 2049 -- the second centennial mission marking the completion of hundred years since Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China. By highlighting the importance of 'ideology' and 'line', Xi Jinping has identified himself with the Party so completely that his leadership can not be easily challenged by any dissenters.
Under Xi Jinping, China is progressing economically and also politically extending its influence in the world taking care to buy time for its mission and somewhere following the doctrine of winning a war without a battle. It is joining multilateral platforms to create a non- combatant image, inducing economic dependence of other smaller nations on it through its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and forging bilateral alliances and pacts to further its geo- political advancement.
Pakistan is close to the pro- US group led by Saudi Arabia and yet has a good equation with Islamic radical organizations represented by Taliban.Unsplash
Sino- Pak strategic alliance -- an illustration of this multi-prong objective of China -- is a cause for great concern for India. China knows it can not change the Western systems and is not in a hurry to challenge the global economic order -- it is exploring alternate approaches of invading others economically and doing it successfully. As far as territorial expansion was concerned Xi's China adheres to its known 'two steps forward one step backward' strategy -- which is salami slicing of sorts -- that was in evidence on LAC as also in the Indo-Pacific. India has suitably responded to these moves on land as well as on sea by undertaking a matching military build up and actively joining in Quad, respectively.
Some analysts have perceptively noted that President Xi Jinping has embarked on a larger than life mission of surpassing Mao Zedong in building China as the dominant power of the world -- matching the place it once occupied in its civilizational history. His new strategy of bringing all 'under one heaven' compels a recall of the description the Chinese Emperor once enjoyed as the 'son of heaven'. It is remarkable that a Communist dictatorship carrying the stamp of Marxism today is deriving strength from the country's civilisational roots. This reflects the desire for world domination -- the Emperor of China expected 'tribute' from other countries as protection money.
Xi's China is also working on fail -- safe alliances -- using its economic hold as in the case of Pakistan. The defence expenditure of China has been on the rise -- in comparison to India it rose from a near parity in the Nineties to more than three times of India's defence budget, as at present. China's move forward is neither transactional nor transformational but a strategy of continuum -- steady in pace and direction --attempted on a good understanding of the global 'space' on land ,sea and air. Geo- politically China is now in the frame so far as the emerging scene of the world getting divided between two superpowers, was concerned.
The defence expenditure of China has been on the rise -- in comparison to India.Unsplash
India has set in motion a well- considered strategy of handling the economic and security challenges emanating from this situation. There was never any doubt that the US and India must together anchor the collective effort of the democratic world to counter the threat from the Communist dictatorships on one hand and that from Islamic extremists on the other.
The policy of the Modi government to have bilateral relations on the basis of mutuality of interests in the economic and security spheres has been very successful. India is enlarging the ambit of friendships with European democracies, Australia, Japan and Israel -- including association with Quad -- to promote collective security against these dangers. As a nation with a voice in the global matters pertaining to war and peace, India is working for self-reliance in the area of defence and building military strength to take on any aggressive move of the PLA on the LAC and punish Pakistan for any provocation from across the LOC.
India has maintained close friendship with Russia which has -- apart from defence deals with India -- been on the same page on the vital issues of Afghanistan and radicalization. It is the policy of mutuality of security interests in Afghanistan that has made India work in collaboration with Iran, notwithstanding the conflicts that this country had with the US and Israel. Indian diplomacy has worked hard to keep the Western powers convinced of the legitimacy of India's policy towards all these other countries.
Finally, there is an added challenge on the internal security front because of the intent of the China-Pak combine to instigate acts of terror, insurgency and sectarian discord in India in an attempt to destabilize this country. A new dimension of the domestic scene of India is the rise of civil society forums which in collusion with anti-India lobbies abroad and elements hostile to the Modi government at home, play politics by proxy on issues ranging from Kashmir to Northeast and from safety of Dalits and minorities to poverty alleviation. Fortunately, we are getting adequate Intelligence to draw a line between genuine protests and sponsored agitations.
(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau; the views expressed are personal)
(Keywords : president, prime minister, Biden, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, China, America, India, Pakistan, military, alliance, defence, challenge, concern, security, dominant, power, history. )
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