Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sochi Winter Olympics and Terror Threats

By Dr Rabin Man Shakya

Sochi, a Russian city is currently grabbing international headlines because of the Winter Olympics and terrorist threats. Coincidentally, it was right about 25 years ago that I happened to be in Sochi. In fact, I spent three weeks at the resort city of Adler which was less than an hour-bus ride to Sochi which lies on the western edge of the Caucasus mountains on the Black Sea in southern Russia. Adler just like Sochi was situated on the banks of the Black Sea. I still remember 'Frigate' was the name of the 20-story modern resort house where I was provided accomodation for relaxing in the summer vacation.
Probably, all the statuses are not quo in case of Sochi. Twenty five years ago, Sochi was a typical Soviet city, full of ubiquitous Soviet style buildings, roads, parks and public transportation networks. But I still remember when I landed at the Sochi airport, I was so surprised to see the mix of tall mountains and the sea, it was so incredible, so amazing. But back then the Sochi airport was comparatively not a big and sophisticated one.
Now that the Winter Olympics is just around the corner, the Sochi airport should have been transformed into a modern airport and Sochi itself should have been morphed into a modern city, thanks to billions of dollars worth investment by the Putin  administration on the infrastructure and development of Sochi.
Meanwhile, according to media reports, an Islamic militant group in the volitile Caucasus region has threatened to attack the Olympic Games and has claimed responsibility for two bombings last month in the southern city of Volgagrad that killed 34 people.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an interview with foreign correspondents, said Russia would do "whatever it takes" to ensure the security of Olympics participants and guests. The Russian president who has staked his political prestige on the success of the Olympics has ordered safety and security measures stepped up in Sochi and across Russia. Approximately, 40,000 Russian police and military personnel are providing security in the Sochi area.
According to media reports, at least, 10,000 Americans are traveling to Sochi for Winter Olympic Games.Obviously, the terrorist threats of assaults have triggered panic among the international participants and visitors. Going by the American media reports, many visitors and relatives of the participants are in a fix whether or not make a trip to Sochi during the Olympics.
There is no doubt that the threats of the Islamofascists should not be taken merely as hoax. According to the media reports, Russia has made adequate and necessary arrangements of security in Sochi and across the Russian Federation.
Judging by Sochi's geo-polititical location, it looks like terrorist assaults during the games is not possible in or around Sochi, but most likely, any terrorist assault can take place at places other than Sochi.

Iraq: One of the Deadliest Nations for Journalists

By Dr Rabin Man Shakya

Iraq was and still is a deeply polarized country in the Arab World. During 1980s as a journalism student at the Belorussian State University in Minsk, I was familiar with so many Iraqis: journalism as well as non-journalism students. Iraqi students came to the former Soviet Union to acquire higher education in different specializations through various channels:(1) through Saddam Hussein's Baath Party government, (2) through the Iraqi Communist Party and (3) through Kurdish Iraqi organizations.
The political polarization among the Iraqi students was so palpable even during that period in the former Soviet Union, so much so that, the students sent from the government side did not speak to the students sent to the USSR through the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) or through Kurdish Iraqi organizations.
More often than not, during interactions, Iraqi students coming from ICP line or Kurdish Iraqi organizations would complain that there is no press freedom and freedom of expression in Saddam's Iraq and that they were constantly persecuted by the authorities, while pro-Saddam students bragged about stability, prosperity, law and order in Iraq at that time.
However, post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is politically fragile, not a safe place for journalists to work. From 1995 to 2004, the number of media personnel killed in Iraq was 36, making Iraq the most vulnerable and deadliest country for journalists during that period.
It is to be remembered that in October 2004 a car bomb had exploded in Baghdad bureau of Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network based in Dubai. The blast had taken lives of five employees and critically hurt 14 others, five of them TV reporters. The crisis had raised a terrifying specter for Iraqi journalists who were already vulnerable to assaults from both Sunni and Shiite warlords.
Incidents of fatal assaults against the Iraqi media outlets and journalists have been repeatedly reported in different newspapers and TV networks in recent times. According to the recent media reports, journalists have not escaped the recent surge of violence in Iraq and several have been shot dead at close range.
Human Rights Watch recently said:"Journalists in Iraq face a double threat, from armed gangs gunning them down and prosecutors charging them, all because of what they write. The recent spate of assassinations of journalists, who risk being prosecuted by the very authorities that are supposed to protect them."
By the end of 2012, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 93 unresolved murders of journalists in Iraq since 2003, not counting the journalists killed in the crossfire of combat.
The Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence is plunging Iraq into an abyss of chaos and uncertainties and journalists are not untouched by the consequences of the sectarian conflicts. Judging by the media reports, prospects for any breakthrough in violent Sunni-Shiite ethnic polarization remain very dismal.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Snowden to Join Board of Freedom of the Press Foundation

By Rabin Man Shakya. Ph D

Edward J. Snowden, an American computer specialist, a former CIA operative and former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed classified NSA documents to several media outlets, has been in sensational international headlines continuously since May 2013 up to now.

Judging by the news stories, Snowden has attracted as much controversy as support by disclosing classified NSA documents.

According  to the New York Times, Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose leaks of secret documents set off a global debate about government spying, is joining the board of a nonprofit group cofounded by Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War." (The New York Times, Jan 15, 2014)

The NYT story went on:"The announcement by the group, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, is the latest contribution to a public relations tug of war between Mr Snowden's critics, who portray him as a criminal and traitor, and his supporters, who say he is a whistleblower and a news media source in the tradition of Mr Ellsberg."

Meanwhile, in an online statement, FPF's co-founder  Daniel Ellsberg said:"I am proud and honored to welcome Edward J. Snowden to FPF's board of directors. He is the quintessential American whistleblower, and a personal hero of mine."

Ellsberg added:"Leaks are the lifeblood of the republic and, for the first time, the American public has been given the chance to debate democratically the NSA's mass survellance programs. Accountability journalism can't be done without the courageous acts exemplified by Snowden, and we need more like him."

Snowden, who landed in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport on June 23, 2013 aboard a plane from Hongkong, is living in Russia where he was granted temporary asylum. Going by the news stories in the newspapers and digital journalism, it looks like Snowden's crusade has morphed into an international sensation and has focused on the war against the mass survellance programs.

There is no doubt that Snowden's modus operandi has has garnered a global interest and has imparted some kind of lessons of wider political ramifications. As the New York Times pointed out in a scathing editorial (Jan 18, 2014): "On Friday, after seven months of increasingly uncomfortable revelations and growing public outcry, Mr Obama gave a speech that was in large part of an admission that he had been wrong."

The NYT editorial further said: "The president announced important new restrictions on the collections of information about ordinary Americans, including the requirement of court approval before telephone records can be searched. He called for greater oversight of the intelligence community and acknowledged that intrusive forms of technology posed a growing threat to civil liberties."

"Buddha Dharma Wa Nepal Bhasa" and Dharmaditya Dharmacharya

By Dr Rabin Man Shakya
President, Newah American Buddhist Association.

What is the name of the first publication in Nepal Bhasa and who was  its editor? The answer is: A monthly magazine "Buddha Dharma" was the first printed publication in Nepal Bhasa and it was brought out in 1925 by Dharmaditya Dharmacharya which was nome de plume of Jagat Man Vaidya (1902-1963).
In fact, "Buddha Dharma" was the outcome of the lofty ideals of some enthusiastic Newars in Calcutta, India like Dharmacharya to create a platform for reviving Theravada Buddhism and for promoting Nepal Bhasa as language of the Newars.
It may be a coincidence or  a planned event, but the first issue of the publication "Buddha Dharma" was brought out on the day of Buddha Purnima.
It was in 1927 that the name of the publication "Buddha Dharma" was morphed  into "Buddha Dharma Wa Nepal Bhasa" (Buddhism and Newari language) thereby becoming an effective platform that accomodated interests of Theravada Buddhists and advocates of Nepal Bhasa.
So, what was the raison d' etre of "Buddha Dharma" being published from Calcutta, British India? Press freedom and freedom of expression  were the words that very few Nepalese elites could understand during the Rana regime. What, palpably, made the Rana regime decide not to permit the people to participate in the linguistic, journalistic and social activities was the specter that in due course of time, it would politicize and polarize the people to such an extent that a serious threat to their monopolistic rule might be posed.
Hence, the Nepalese people were not only deprived of press freedom and freedom of expression, but all those means of mass information that might make them politically conscious of their legitimate rights were also prohibited to function during the entire Rana autocracy.
The rituals, ceremonies and traditions of Bajrayana Buddhism practiced by the Shakyas and Bajracharyas of the Kathmandu Valley were allowed unhindered during the Rana regime. But the Ranas did not tolerate the activities of the Buddhist monks bolstering the Theravada Buddhism. As a result, a number of Nepalese Buddhist monks were banished from the country.
Given the fact that even the first and pioneering publication in the Nepali language (which has always been the official and national language of Nepal during the entire Rana and Shah rule) "Gorkha Bharat Jeevan" was printed and published in Banaras, British India in 1888, it is not surprising to note that the first publication in Nepal Bhasa  was also launched not from Nepal but from Calcutta, British India.
Quintessentially, "Buddha Dharma" was a magazine devoted to the issues of Theravada Buddhism and Nepal Bhasa. That is why there is no doubt "Buddha Dharma" was an effective voice that was instrumental in disseminating  and enhancing the ideas of Nepal Bhasa and Buddhism. It was able to inculcate values of language and to give a voice for the freedom of religion.
So, it looks like despite the repression of the ethnic languages  of Nepal by the Rana regime and its prejudiced policy of unilateral promotion of the Nepali language, the history of Nepal Bhasa journalism had not been all doom and gloom comparing to that of other  ethnic languages of Nepal.
Therefore, Nepal Bhasa journalism will always be indebted to Dharmaditya Dharmacharya for championing the august cause of commencing the first publication  in Nepal Bhasa.

*I value your opinion. Please provide your feedback by posting a comment below.
**Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

More and More Journalists Caught in Crossfire in Syrian Conflict

By Rabin Man Shakya

The ongoing conflict and civil war in Syria has directly affected the journalists: international correspondents as well as Syrian reporters. More and more journalists, both Syrian and foreign, have been killed or abducted while  they were caught in the crossfire.

News reporting is an essential function of the media organizations like newspapers, news agencies, radio, TV networks, bloggers and digital journalism etc. Covering the conflicts and war reporting are full of serious hazards. More often than not, explosions, shootings and crossfires greet the reporters. Besides, a number of journalists have been abducted and then killed by the insurgents as well as government forces. Familiar with all these occupational hazards, journalists take calculated risks everyday to report the news from the conflict-zones. Too often, they pay with their lives.

More than 700 journalists and reporters have been killed, while reporting in the conflict as well as non-conflict circumstances across the world in the last ten, eleven years. Fatal assaults against the media personnel continue unabated.

The lingering Syrian conflict has taken a colossal toll on human lives exceeding 100,000 deaths. The number of journalists being killed or abducted by the rebels, jihadists and government forces is ever on the rise.

The civil war in Syria has become, for reporters, one of the most challenging and dangerous assignments in many years with at least 30 having died while covering the civil war that kicked off there about three years ago.

According to a Wall Street Journal news story datelined Beirut, January 9, 2014, "The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York based nonprofit dedicated to press freedom, said that some 30 Western and Syrian reporters were missing in Syria and were being held by rebels or criminal gangs. An additional 12 journalists are in government jails, the group said."

Journalism, there is no doubt, is one of the most dangerous professions in the world because journalists and reporters have to work at some of the most volatile places of the world.

I wonder what could have happened to some of my Syrian journalists-friends who were together with me in Minsk, the capital of Belorussia. I am an Alma-Mater of the Faculty of Journalism at the Belorussian State University in the 1980s. I was familiar with, at least, six journalism students from Syria at that time.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Egyptian Journalists at the Crossroads

By Rabin Man Shakya

Generalissimo and press freedom are antagonistic to each other. When generals rule the country, the Fourth Estate is always fragile to the caprices of the generalissimos. That is what happened in many military regimes in Africa and Latin America and in countries like Pakistan and Myanmar and that is what is happening right now in Egypt.

According to New York Times news story datelined January 1, 2014, "Egyptian prosecutors on Tuesday ordered three detained journalists from the news channel Al Jazeera English to be held in custody for 15 more days, on charges that include belonging to a terrorist group and harming the country's reputation abroad.

The NYT story went on: "Four journalists from Al Jazeera were arrested on Sunday, and one, an Egyptian cameraman, was later released.  Prosecutors began interrogating the three remaining in custody, including the bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen, Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer."

In many countries, threats and attacks to journalists mainly come from the corrupt tycoons, underworld dons and political organizations. But it looks like the scenario is totally different in case of Egypt where journalists are vulnerable to the idiosyncrasies of the generalissimos.

Ever since long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power by a popular uprising and then the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was removed from power by the generalissimos, Egypt  has always been in political turmoil. The activities of the Egyptian generalissimos have posed and still posing serious threat to the independent journalism in Egypt.

Press freedom which is a hallmark of a pluralistic and civilized society is now vulnerable to the generals in Egypt.It looks like the Egyptian generals are solidifying their grip  on power. The dictators and generals hate the free press. There is no doubt the generals will not allow the free press to flourish in Egypt.

Yes, Egypt is a deeply polarized nation, but this should not be an excuse for generals to stick to power. Democracy should be restored and generals should pave the way for the elected government. Democracy cannot sustain itself without an independent press. By the same token, press freedom and freedom of expression can be guaranteed only in a democratic society.

According to the independent media reports, several Egyptian journalists from both the English-and-Arabic language services have been detained since former president Morsi's ouster, and two Al Jazeera Arabic journalists have remained in prison for months.

The harassment and detaining of the Egyptian journalists is outrageous and unacceptable to the civilized world. As long as the generals stay in power, Egypt will always be in the grip  of tense stalemate in its media sector.

Therefore, even though the long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled couple years ago, the independent Egyptian journalists are not safe and secure. As a result, couple years after the spring revolt, Egyptian journalists are still stuck at the crossroads of military regime and democracy.