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Journalism: Drifting Dangerously

Seema Sengupta

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A picture speaks a thousand words. The image of rescuers retrieving Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s motionless body – perhaps lifeless too at that point of time – from the homicide site in occupied West Bank’s Jenin does point to an alarming truth. Journalism has become the most dangerous profession in the world today, with practitioners – labelled as “soft targets” – being widely considered as fair game. From gunmen, both State authorized and proscribed, to propagators of jingoistic politics, everybody seems to have developed a penchant for targeting journalists.

Who can forget Czech President Milos Zeman brandishing a replica of an AK-47, with “for journalists” inscribed in it, in a press conference? Early last year political protestors scratched “murder the media” on the door of the US Capitol – the seat of American democracy, and six months later, in July, members of Afghanistan’s Taliban militia brutally executed on-duty Pulitzer award-winning Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, holed up in a Mosque to evade heavy gunfight during an assignment. Like Shireen, Danish too was in his press vest. Ironically, this was supposed to be the century of the media, and yet we ended up having a dangerous ecosystem where news gatherers are frequently turning into news themselves.

The UN reported fifty-five journalists and media professionals casualty last year, with nearly nine in ten killings since 2006 still remaining unresolved. “Far too many journalists paid the ultimate price to bring truth to light” lamented UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. She underscored the dire need of independent, factual information in a conflict-ridden world more than ever before.

Despite the UNESCO chief’s concern over systematic targeting of journalists, for the UN and western world in general, Shireen is just another number in the list of victims who perished while contributing to freedom of expression, promotion of democracy and ushering of peace in these turbulent times. Her sacrifice will be remembered, the calculated risk she took to disseminate truth will be applauded, but her death will remain a collateral casualty – mortality from occupational hazards to be precise. Israel’s aversion to a criminal investigation into Shireen’s death lay bare the duplicity of the West, paying lip service to the call for closure. As Danish’s family learnt the hard way, while fighting a legal battle in the International Criminal Court, justice for these crusaders will not come easy. After all, we live in a world where destructive rhetoric has taken a toll on people’s ability to emotionally relate to the pains of fellow humans.

I do not know if Shireen and Danish knew each other, but both flew on the wings of honest truth-telling to try and shape the narrative and discourage society from travelling along a dead-end path to nowhere. Their zeal for capturing the underlying messages of life was unparalleled, and they excelled in it too. Shireen covered the harsh realities of occupied life with meticulous dedication. She never deviated from revealing the human cost of occupation. Countless statistics, faceless people, heart wrenching stories of separation found place in Shireen’s reporting. Helpless parents struggling to ensure children’s treatment for want of special permit, individuals prevented from attending relatives’ funeral, mothers giving birth at check point, students missing examination and scholarship, patients losing the fight for life due to travel restrictions – innumerable stories of tragedy and personal losses from the embattled Palestinian territory continues to evoke strong emotion. Shireen documented such anguish without losing objectivity – never allowing her Palestinian identity to overshadow the journalistic instinct and etiquettes, which made her a public icon. A beacon to the rookie scribes back home, her narrative remained inextricably linked to that stuffy experience of growing up in a territory which is prison-like in ambience. Shireen’s brush with death during earlier assignments remains a testimony to the dangerous working conditions of Palestinian journalists and their grit as well.

The intense urge to be the voice of the voiceless, who are deliberately silenced and remain unheard, made journalists like Shireen take risk time and again while reporting on the Gaza wars, Intifada, enforced eviction from homes, indiscriminate killings of Palestinian youths, detention without charge and continuous expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. In her death, Shireen eventually succeeded in bringing back the focus of the world to the necessity of a quicker political settlement to the Palestine issue so that no more talents are sacrificed in such a gruesome manner.

Danish, too, used his lens to create instant visual imprints on the human brain, concerning events happening around us that shake societal conscience, and in the process ruffled too many feathers. His pandemic photographs, the controversial Citizenship Act protest images from the heart of the Indian capital or that famous snap of frenzied mob beating a Muslim man ruthlessly during the 2020 Delhi riots, which shed light on the entrenched Islamophobia in society, enraged the Hindu right wing forces in India. Danish was on the hit list of majoritarian fanatics, but escaped fatality, only to fall into Taliban’s hands eventually.

Danish, like Shireen, might have been a victim of targeted killing, but both were consumed by hate, which blurs our vision and detaches us from sanity and rational thinking. Taliban guerrillas not only pumped bullets into Danish’s chest indiscriminately but also ran him over to mutilate the body further. Incidentally, methodical demonization of journalism through name calling has heightened risk factors and led to plummeting of trust in recent times. As journalists are frequently hunted down and murdered in cold blood for disseminating awkward facts, one wonders, what is the remedy to this ailment? To bring a perceptible change in the situation and reverse this dangerous trend, there is a need for greater awareness and stronger public defence of journalism’s true value for society. That can only happen when journalists do not shy away from telling their own stories of harassment to the world aggressively. Besides, judicial activism can help prosecute attacks against journalists.

We lose dozens of Shireen and Danish regularly. Is there an effective answer to such criminal assault on an essential pillar of democracy? Can the formation of an UN mandated high-powered investigation committee, to resolve those hundreds of cold cases of journalists killed for doing their job honestly, act as a deterrent? Three more reporters were killed around the world along with Shireen in the second week of May. It is an authoritarian world that we live in where even practicing democracies rely on subtle constitutional censorship to muzzle the press. Only legal retribution can send a stern message that the work and life of a journalist is priceless. The big question is, who will bell the cat to protect independent journalism and bring closure to the families of the dead?

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Bill proposes allocating 33 percent of parliament seats to women

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Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam has proposed an amendment to the constitution to allocate 33 percent of the seats in the parliament for women.

The bill reads that it is aimed at ensuring female representation among individuals elected to the parliament, increasing the role of women in protecting the interests of the nation and citizens and increasing the participation of women in making crucial national decisions.

It is also aimed at increasing female participation in public, increasing opportunities for women in politics and increasing the percentage of women involved in politics.

The bill proposes adding a section behind Article 71 (b) of the constitution setting down the number of members in the parliament – Article 71 (c) to state that 33 percent of the parliament’s seats should be allocated for women.

Meanwhile, the bill proposes Article 71 (d) to state that the constituencies allocated for women will be decided by a draw and would be on a rotational basis to ensure fairness.

It also proposes Article 71 (e) to state that the parliament must decide on the allocation of seats of women in the parliament during the next election once women elected to the parliament on this quota complete their terms.

There are only four female parliamentarians in the ongoing 19th parliamentary assembly.

Elections Commission (EC) has previously stated only 10 percent of candidates contesting this year’s parliamentary election are females – accounting to 41 candidates out of the total 368 candidates.

Source(s): sun.mv

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Global call for Gaza aid convoy deaths probe; EU cuts UNRWA funds

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants an independent probe into the deaths of more than 100 people seeking humanitarian aid in Gaza as various countries expressed their concern over the incident. Israel has disputed the account provided by officials in the Hamas-run enclave.

Germany also demanded an investigation, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he was angered by the shooting and demanded “truth and justice” regarding the role of Israeli soldiers in the incident.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces on Thursday (February 29) shot dead more than 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery, but Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.

At least 112 people were killed and more than 280 wounded in the incident near Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said.

Israel disputed the account provided by officials in Hamas-run Gaza, which has been bombarded by Israeli forces for months since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly rampage in southern Israel on October 7.

Guterres ‘shocked’

Speaking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines ahead of a regional summit, Guterres said he was “shocked” by the latest episode in the conflict, in which Palestinian authorities say over 30,000 civilians have been killed since October 7.

Responding to questions on the failure of a recent Security Council resolution seeking a ceasefire, Guterres said worsening geopolitical divides have “transformed the veto power into an effective instrument of paralysis of the action of the Security Council.”

“I am totally convinced that we need a humanitarian ceasefire and we need the unconditional and immediate release of hostages and that we should have a Security Council able to achieve these objectives,” Guterres said.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen Friday tweeted: “Deeply disturbed by images from Gaza. Every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency. Humanitarian aid is a lifeline for those in need and access to it must be ensured. We stand by civilians, urging their protection in line with international law.”

‘Mass panic’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock asked Israel to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. She wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” and reiterated calls for a “humanitarian ceasefire.”

The U.S. State Department said it was urgently seeking information on the incident, as did the French foreign ministry. The White House said President Joe Biden discussed the “tragic and alarming incident” with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar.

The strongest reaction from major Western leaders came from Macron, who tweeted: “Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza, where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers. I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law.”

Macron said it was imperative for an immediate ceasefire in the war to be put in place.

Speaking on France Inter radio on Friday, Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Paris would back the United Nations’ call for an independent investigation.

“The humanitarian situation has been catastrophic for several weeks now and what happened is indefensible and unjustifiable. Israel needs to be able to hear it and it needs to stop,” Sejourne told France Inter.

Israel dismisses Palestinian explanation

The Israeli military said the trucks were operated by private contractors as part of an aid operation that it had been overseeing for the past four nights.

One Israeli official said there had been two incidents, hundreds of meters apart. In the first, dozens were killed or injured as they tried to take aid from the trucks and were trampled or run over.

He said there was a second, subsequent incident as the trucks moved off. Some people in the crowd approached troops who felt under threat and opened fire, killing an unknown number in a “limited response”, he said. He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.

In a later briefing, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari also said dozens had been trampled to death or injured in a fight to take supplies off the trucks.

He said tanks escorting the trucks had subsequently fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and backed away when events began to get out of hand. “No IDF strike was conducted towards the aid convoy,” he said.

“The IDF was there conducting a humanitarian operation to secure the humanitarian corridor and allow the aid convoy to reach its designated distribution point.”

The loss of civilian lives was the biggest in weeks. Hamas said the incident could jeopardise talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages it is holding.

Abbas condemns ‘ugly massacre’

Medics in Gaza said they could not cope with the flood of serious injuries, which came as the death toll in nearly five months of war passed 30,000, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Hamas issued a statement rejecting the Israeli account. It said the Health Ministry had presented “undeniable” evidence of “direct firing at citizens, including headshots aimed at immediate killing, in addition to the testimonies of all witnesses who confirmed being targeted with direct fire without posing any threat to the occupying army”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was an “ugly massacre” by Israel.

One video shared on social media, whose location Reuters was able to verify, showed trucks loaded with many dead bodies as well as wounded people.

Another, which Reuters could not verify, showed bloodstained people being carried in a truck, bodies wrapped in shrouds and doctors treating injured patients on the hospital floor.

UNRWA funds held back by European Commission

The European Commission said on Friday it would hold back part of a payment of $89 million for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) but increase overall aid to the Palestinians by $74 million this year.

UNRWA provides aid and basic services to Palestinians caught up in the war in Gaza but was thrown into crisis after Israel alleged in January that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 staff in the enclave were involved in the Hamas attack of October 7 last year.

Like many of the agency’s other big donors, the EU’s executive body reviewed its funding of UNRWA after Israel made the allegations.

The Commission said in a statement on Friday it now would “proceed to paying” a first tranche of $54 million of the $82 million due to be paid around the end of last month.

It said it would pay two further tranches of $17 million “in line with” an agreement with UNRWA to address concerns raised by the Israeli accusations.

UNRWA dismissed all the accused staff following the allegations. But many major donors, including the United States, Britain and several European Union countries, suspended payments to the agency or said they would not approve new funding until the matter was resolved.

The agency said a total of $450 million in funding was at risk and warned its operations across the Middle East would be “severely compromised” from March

Source(s): CGTN

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Air ambulance service to be available 24 hours

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Health Ministry states air ambulance service will be available 24 hours for emergency cases across all Maldivian regions.

The Ministry added that the air ambulance is equipped with resources to provide emergency care for patients during their transfer to the nearest tertiary hospital from various areas in the Maldives. They also noted the allocation of 15 trained medical professionals in the provision of air ambulance service including doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians.

As per the Health Ministry, the purpose of this service, introduced under President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu’s policies, is to ensure the provision of air ambulance in the Maldives in a sustainable manner.

A DHC-8-200 aircraft is utilized for the air ambulance, said the Ministry.

The Ministry added that the inclusion of air ambulance service in medical services will expand emergency care services.

Health Minister Dr. Abdulla Khaleel has said a maximum of two patients can be carried at once on the air ambulance at the commencement of the service.

According to Minister Khaleel, two Island Aviation aircraft; a domestic plane and a seaplane, will be utilized for the air ambulance services.

Source(s): sun.mv

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