Freelancers and freedom of expression in Bangladesh

Freelancers and freedom of expression in Bangladesh
Thursday, 23 February 2017 Written by Rory Peck Trust

Every two years, in Dhaka, the Chobi Mela biennale attracts photographers and journalists from across Bangladesh and Asia. RPT was at this year's edition to chair a panel, present our work and discover more about the challenges facing the region's freelancers.

In recent years, there has been a significant deterioration in the climate for freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Reporters Without Borders downgraded Bangladesh’s status from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’ in their 2016 Press Freedom Index and it was ranked as one of the worst offenders in CPJ’s 2016 Global Impunity Index. 45 journalists have been killed in Bangladesh since 1995, according to research by Article 19 - and only two have resulted in convictions.

In February, as part of a research trip to Bangladesh, RPT's Head of Programmes, Mary O'Shea, chaired a panel discussion at the 9th edition of the Chobi Mela biennale in Dhaka, which explored the challenges faced by freelance journalists and photographers working in Bangladesh and across the Asia region. Chobi Mela is the largest festival of photography in Asia and prides itself on being the "most demographically inclusive photography festival." It attracts a large number of freelancers from across Bangladesh and beyond, so it was an ideal platform to raise the profile of the Trust in a region in which we have - to date - had a limited footprint.

Alongside Mary on the panel were Tahmina Rahman, the Bangladesh and South Asia Director of Article 19, and Shahidul Alam, Director of both Chobi Mela, and Pathshala South Asia Media Institute, which runs educational programmes in photography and multimedia journalism.

Universal freelance issues such as the lack of training, legal support and affordable insurance were discussed and debated. So too were concerns around the increasing vulnerability of freelancers in the face of rising intimidation and threats. Mary introduced the work of RPT and talked about how our freelance assistance programme could provide future support to those in need. She was also able to identify future priority areas for the Trust.

We are grateful to Chobi Mela for making us part of their festival. We can now start to build strategic local partnerships in the region with a greater knowledge and understanding of how the Trust can best respond to the needs of freelancers and their families in Bangladesh and across Asia.

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Image credit (top): Munem Wasif
Image credit (bottom): Enamul Hasan

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