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5 South Asian Press Stalwarts

Apr/30/2023 / by Melanie Fourie

These courageous women journalists have fought off stereotypes and taken on the establishment

A woman carrying a professional Nikon camera
A woman carrying a professional Nikon camera. Courtesy Pexels

World Press Freedom Day celebrates its 30th year on May 3, 2023. Since its declaration in 1993, significant strides have been made toward a free press and freedom of speech on a global scale. A freer flow of information has resulted from the advent of digital technology and the emergence of independent media outlets in many nations. However, there has been a disturbing trend of attacks on freedom of the press, journalist safety, and free speech. In honor of this day, we reflect on the accomplishments of South Asian women in the press who speak truth to power despite censorship in their countries.

Saiyna Bashir

Pakistani photojournalist Saiyna Bashir is headquartered in Islamabad. Her photographs have appeared in outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, and The New York Times. She’s also worked with the WHO and UNICEF. In 2020, she received funding from the National Geographic Emergency Fund for Journalists. She was to complete a photo essay detailing the financial and social impact of SARS-CoV-2 in urban slums in Pakistan. Most of her long-term projects center on are topics such as health care, immigration, ethnic attacks, climate change, and women from marginalized groups.

The Press in Pakistan

In the last 20 years, Pakistan’s media has flourished, presenting a wide range of political perspectives. However, recent administrations and the military have muzzled media freedom. This undermines pluralism and the independence of the press.

Champika Liyanaarachchi

Champika Liyanaarachchi is a pioneer in journalism and academia in Sri Lanka. She was also the first woman to become a daily newspaper editor there. Despite media censorship, since January 2007, Liyanaarachchi has held the position of editor-in-chief of Sri Lanka’s “Daily Mirror.” It is the country’s best-selling independent English newspaper. In January 2015, she stepped down. Her current position at the publication is that of consultant editor.

Liyanaarachchi, as chief editor of the “Daily Mirror,” doubled the paper’s readership. She also served as the country’s ambassador for the Paris-based Reporters without Borders. From 2003 to 2012, she was on the Commonwealth Journalists Association’s board of directors. She has given talks at the World Editor’s Forum.

Press Freedom in Sri Lanka

Press freedom violations in Sri Lanka have been widely reported since the late 1980s and again from 2005 to 2010. Reporters Without Borders has ranked Sri Lanka as one of the world’s most challenging nations for journalists. It ranks 127 out of 178. There has been notable growth in the number of women working in Sri Lanka’s media. This is particularly true of the English media. But female journalists still face challenges. For instance, in 2009, an unknown group tried to get into the home of journalist and media rights campaigner Dileesha Abeysundera.

Monika Deupala

When Nepal’s Monika Deupala was in high school, she discovered a passion for photography. She decided to become a photographer while still in college. She majored in media studies.

“The Nepali Times,” an English weekly newspaper, offered her a position as a photojournalism intern during her senior year. After seeing Deupala’s talent, the editor hired her on the spot. She has subsequently produced works on a diverse range of topics. Her work has also appeared in Lonely Planet, The Guardian, and Reuters.

Nepalese Press Challenges

Recent years have seen an increase in online harassment of journalists in Nepal, with women journalists being singled out for particularly savage assaults. When reporting issues that challenge patriarchy, religious orthodoxy, and inequity, women journalists have endured nasty and threatening messages.

Cheena Kapoor

Cheena Kapoor, a photojournalist and journalist living in Delhi, is interested in health, environmental, and social concerns. Reuters, the BBC, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera are just some outlets that have featured her work. She put together a “forgotten daughters” endeavor, which focuses on women left behind in Indian psychiatric asylums. She has been frequently featured in European publications and exhibitions.

The Press in India

Indian journalists have been detained on charges of terrorism and sedition. The police have conducted regular raids on the offices of media outlets and critics. The Information Technology Act and IT Rules of 2021 also create a legal gray area for journalists and online critics who publish anything deemed to be “defamatory” of the government.

Masrat Zahra

An award-winning Indian photojournalist, Masrat Zahra’s tales include those of Kashmiri citizens, particularly women. In 2020, Zahra received the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism and the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. Her work provides a window into the reality of Kashmir and the effects of the abrogation of Act 370. Al Jazeera and The Washington Post have also featured her.

With countless others, the police arrested Masrat on charges of anti-national social media activity. In 2020, she was charged her under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Currently she is a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.

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