Kathmandu,20 Nov 2014: The social, economic, religious, cultural and natural bond existing between the people of South Asia since time immemorial was the foundation for the establishment of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) three decades ago.
Despite the wider dimension of this dynamic bond we feel a lack of something between us, a void that we can sense. One of the major reasons for this is the bilateral relations among the SAARC member countries, which has seen good days and bad.
Another chief reason is the prevalent gap seen in the means of communications among the SAARC member countries. The SAARC countries have not been able to retain the proximity, which should have had been there, due to this unusual disparity. Any one of the SAARC member countries are having to resort to the medium of a third party to get information of the incidents in another member country and this has posed a challenge to the sentimentality of SAARC.
It is imperative for existence of close relations between the communication channels of all the eight countries to give completion to the SAARCâ€™s aspirations and to share the happiness and sadness of the peoples of the region fairly and openly. There can be no other alternative to the media in order to share the information easily, effectively and with less expense. But the expected flow of information among the eight SAARC countries has not taken place. A bitter truth is there right before us as the citizens of a SAARC country are compelled to depend on the media of the western or other countries for information regarding another SAARC country.
When the media has made the world smaller our sentiments have not been able to expand. The dissemination of information is one of the areas that can play a role for generations to come in SAARC for which mutual relations of the media of the eight SAARC countries must develop a rapport.
In view of this necessity, in 1996 Nepalâ€™s National News Agency (RSS) and Bangladeshâ€™s BSS started an exercise in sharing news in English language. As per the initiative RSS provided relevant news produced in Nepal for the readers in Bangladesh through BSS and the BSS reciprocated in the same manner to provide news to Nepali readers through RSS. This initiative was named South Asian News Arrangement (SANA) and it was driven with an objective of extending the network among all SAARC countriesâ€™ news agencies. But â€˜SANAâ€™ failed to proceed with its aims due to lack of budget, manpower and above all commitment. One of the other reasons is the cold shoulder shown by some media of the concerned SAARC countries to accommodate the news coming from â€˜SANAâ€™.
A coordinated network among the news agencies is a prompt, efficient, cheap and effective means to expand the relations at the peopleâ€™s level through sharing of news and photos. Mindful of this fact a meeting of the officials of the news agencies of the SAARC member countries was held at Paro in Bhutan in 2012 at the initiative from within SAARCâ€™s framework. The meeting had emphasized the necessity for inter-relations between the news agencies of SAARC member countries and a working network. We have not seen any motivational works as had been expected towards that end, even after two years. The commitment and decision made are attractive but it could not take on a full form, which is another challenge for SAARCâ€™s system.
Recently in Kathmandu, SAARC Information Centre organized a two-day seminar participated by the media houses of the SAARC member countries particularly the government media officials. The seminar that saw the representation from seven countries apart from Afghanistan issued a Kathmandu Declaration Paper. The Paper has broached an idea underlining the need for formation of a SAARC Media Forum to prioritize exchange of information between the SAARC member countries. It has been hoped that the Forum will come into being after the upcoming 18th SAARC Summit adopts it. The seminar was participated by RSS from among the news agencies and the effectiveness of news agencies in information dissemination was discussed. A need for a separate information network involving the news agencies of South Asian countries is clearly manifest.
In South Asia, history of news agencyâ€™s journalism dates back to more than a century before. The Associated Press of India (API) established in 1910 in New Delhi is not only the first news agency of India but of the whole of South Asia. In 1971, Bakhtar News Agency was established in Afghanistan while after Bangladesh became independent, the Bangladesh Sambad Sansthan (BSS) was established in 1972. Bhutan does not have a separate news agency. The Kuensel newspaper which has been the oldest and most credible in Bhutan is still operating as an authorized news source. Likewise, Press Trust of India (PTI) established in 1947 is Indiaâ€™s chief news agency. In the Maldives, with the least area and population, the daily newspaper Haveeru is also operating as a news agency through Haveeru news service. In Nepal, the Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) started in 1960 and for the last 53 years it has been working as Nepalâ€™s only authorized news agency as the National News Agency. In Pakistan, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) was established in 1948 and it is the authorized news agency in the country. In Sri Lanka the Lanka Pubhat has been operating as news agency since 1978.
In SAARC countries apart from the news agencies mentioned above there are private sector run news agencies in operation.