Today, journalists continue to face high levels of risk due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, as well as the closure of many media outlets and attempts by authorities to control independent media around the world. purpose of curbing disinformation and/or maintaining peace and security in the South. Asia.

Although the state, political parties and government entities are committed to press freedom and the rule of law, there have been many instances where journalists have faced serious security, which continue today in the form of digital control.

The high number of threats and cases of violence against journalists in South Asian countries, namely Nepal (prolonged impunity for crimes against journalists and proposed digital laws/regulation amendments on broadcasting that undermine free speech and internet freedom), Pakistan (growing intolerance of critical journalism and internet surveillance), India (lawsuits and illegal surveillance of journalists using Pegasus spyware ), Afghanistan (increased security and financial problems with the closure of more than 40% of media in recent months), Bangladesh (use of the digital security law to imprison journalists), Maldives (draft law on evidence which obliges journalists to reveal their sources), Sri Lanka (harassment and intimidation of journalists, restricted access to social media in parallel with the recent unrest political and economic repression) and Bhutan (online campaigns against investigative reporting, including racist attacks), seriously undermine the principles of free electronic and independent media.

It should be noted that many perpetrators of violence against journalists remain unpunished.

Moreover, the state of impunity has diminished public trust in security and justice agencies, further contributing to an atmosphere of insecurity and oppression. Such a situation of impunity has undermined editorial independence by forcing self-censorship among journalists.

Security threats today mainly come from legislative tools aimed at controlling free voices, which prevent journalists from exercising their freedom in practice.

Such a situation has now led to a de facto limitation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which in turn has not only threatened peace processes and stability, but has also undermined the gains achieved so far in the process.

Today, journalists and the news media industry in South Asia all face unprecedented threats in the changing news environment – economic and business challenges, growing distrust and denigration of their work , and various forms of digital risk. Particularly now with the tsunami of misinformation, market destabilization, digital authoritarianism and disruption to our daily lives caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation facing journalism and news media in the region is appalling.

While the Internet has opened up myriad possibilities for citizen empowerment and information exchange, enabling independent content producers to reach a global audience of millions, if not billions, it has also created countless threats to information ecosystems and freedom of expression in the digital sphere. . A point of concern is that journalists do not know the tools for secure and encrypted digital communication, nor are they trained to protect themselves from digital risks. If ignored, online threats and harassment against journalists and the risks associated with their digital surveillance are likely to continue to grow, maintaining or even reinforcing practices of self-censorship, affecting the public’s right to know and the right journalists to freedom of expression.

There are significant security risks for a journalist or blogger who uses the Internet, a smartphone or a satellite phone in a war zone or under an authoritarian regime. For this reason, it is essential to take precautions regarding digital security. Constant data and information cleaning is crucial, especially on social media – remove photos and comments about politics or religion that could be harmful if taken out of context. Use high-level privacy settings to restrict what is publicly accessible about you, including your networks, stories, and photos, and on your Facebook profile, consider replacing your real ID with a nickname.

Journalists should back up their hard drive and leave a copy at home. They must reformat their computer, ie permanently erase all data. If they don’t know how, they can install a new drive and leave the old one at home. Then they just need to install the operating system and all traces of your previous activity will have been removed.

Likewise, it is recommended to carry out all the recommended updates so that the operating system, the browser and their anti-virus software for journalists such as ClamXav, ClamTk, Avast, MSE, McAfee or Norton are the most secure. possible when they leave. Enable the firewall. Journalists are strongly discouraged from performing updates once in the field due to the risk of inadvertently downloading malware or spyware.

Additionally, they are recommended to encrypt their entire hard drive, using FileVault for Mac, or TrueCrypt or BitLocker for Windows. This is essential to protect their data. Using a password can further improve security when using email, smartphones, and social media accounts.

In addition, journalists must lock their computer screens and online sessions with a password. Installing a virtual private network (VPN) can help encrypt journalists’ Internet connections. This means that they cannot be read by anyone else, which protects them against interception or hacking and will allow them to access blocked or censored sites in the country you are visiting.

It is also important to turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and geolocation features of phone apps.

In addition to these personal initiatives of media and journalists, it is rather urgent that authorities and governments in the region create and maintain a free and safe enabling environment for journalists through secure digital connections.

Jamil is Chair of Journalism Research and Education at IAMCR; Pant is the president of Media Action Nepal

A version of this article appears in the May 03, 2022 printing of The Himalayan Times.