Journalists are technically meant to be neutral about news, but often times, they pick up stories that expose corrupt practices and dysfunctional beliefs. In some countries, this could mean a threat to their lives.
"This was meant to be fun," says Rafida Bonya Ahmed, wife of slain blogger Avijit Roy, as she speaks about lengthy chats with her husband over his blog, Mukto Mona, or "the free mind." Ahmed and her husband had met for the first time through the website, which discussed religious practices and beliefs and sought to eradicate superstition through rational arguments and discussions.
Roy was hacked to death by extremists for his revolutionary ideas in Dhaka earlier this year, like several other bloggers in the past few years in Bangladesh. "It is becoming worse day by day," insists Bernhard Hertlein, Bangladesh expert at Amnesty International Germany. Bangladesh's government divides the society into two camps, one in support of it and one against it. These divisive tactics are played out in journalism.
The latest blow to freedom of expression is the new ICT law, according to which journalists can be imprisoned for up to 14 years for "destabilizing the government," Hertlein says. When journalists report news in Bangladesh, it's almost like walking a tightrope so that one does not offend any of the two, he adds.
Reporting in India
This is one reason why journalists in Bangladesh and also in neighboring India flock to social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. Social media's increasing popularity means that journalists also use these mediums to post news, but even this seemingly harmless dissemination of information has its dangers.
Earlier this month, a journalist in Lucknow in North India was set on fire after publishing allegations of corruption and land grabs against a local minister. The incident happened after the reporter, Jagendra Singh, posted his accusations on Twitter. "The minister in question has been arrested but the fact is, journalists are vulnerable," says Murali Krishnan, DW's correspondent in New Delhi.
"Law and order in India is a state issue," says Krishnan, explaining that police and security is usually an individual state's responsibility and not that of the central government in New Delhi. "But whenever there have been attacks on the freedom of press, state governments are reluctant to take action against [the accused] unless of course protests become louder," he adds.
Indian journalists in smaller cities struggle more for freedom of expression that those in larger cities where journalists' unions give them a feeling of solidarity and support in times of need, Krishnan notes.
The threat from Islamists
The threat from extremists is generally lower in India, but journalists in Pakistan have a daily rendezvous with potentially dangerous issues that may tick off the government, the military or the Taliban, says Kamal Khan, a journalist based at Quetta in Pakistan's southwestern province Balochistan.
At least 40 journalists have died in the region since 2001, Khan explains. "Issues related to minorities, when it comes to Ahmedis, Shiites or a related sect called Zikris in Balochistan" can be topics, which when discussed in the media, could cause a backlash with jihadists, he adds. Extremists threaten journalists with direct phone calls and emails. In fact, Pakistan's government has allowed journalists reporting in conflict zones to carry guns, "Currently, even teachers have been granted permission in Balochistan to carry guns to school," the journalist elaborates. "Last month a teacher even shot at his student," Khan says stoically, implying that weapons cannot be used to guarantee freedom of expression.
But how does one remain motivated to a cause in an atmosphere of fear. Blogger Avijit Roy's wife Bonya Ahmed has a fitting answer: "If you see, historically, a lot of progressive ideas were stopped in the beginning. People who feared change, who were affected by the change tried to stop you with all their power – political, economic and social power. This is nothing new." It's just a matter of changing your perspective, she adds.