[Column] Restrictions and violence weigh down press freedom in Southeast Asia
- Int. Solidarity
- 2013.05.22 (11:57:02)
Restrictions and violence weigh down press freedom in Southeast Asia
Ed Legaspi (Southeast Asia Press Alliance)
Two key themes still resonate in Southeast Asian on World Press Freedom D on 3 May 2013: restrictive laws and impunity for violence against media.
The 2013 Press Freedom Index of the Reporters Without Borders place all member countries of the ASEAN at around the bottom third of the rankings, with Brunei ranked the highest at 122 and Vietnam lowest at 172. The only country to breach the 100 mark is Timor Leste, at rank number 90, but it is not yet an ASEAN member.
These themes represent long term issues of reform towards greater respect for the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including press freedom.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) observes that much of the restrictive legislation the suppress media are still in firmly place in countries that have them – Brunei, Laos, Vietnam and even Malaysia and Singapore. Repressive laws in these countries are being strictly enforced, sometimes violently by law enforcement authorities.
These countries have continued to prioritize the interests of the state and the establishment over the people’s right to hold and express contrary opinion and contribute to open public debate. The central agenda is still to maintain political control over the media to protect national ideologies, ruling parties or social structures from those who dare raise questions and issues.
Self-censorship at the editorial or even news collection level is a widespread practice. It has been the only way for mainstream media organizations to continue their existence in these countries.In Indonesia and the Philippines, countries with relatively freer media, new regulations have been legislated and threaten to impede the work of journalists under greater threat of criminal defamation or restrictions in covering public interest information. In Timor Leste, a draft media law has exposed the intention of the state to regulate instead of protect media freedom.
Freedom of the Press Worldwide in 2013 by the Reporters without Borders
At the local level, violence not only happens as a result of state enforcement of restrictive laws, but also in the context of the attempts of government officials or private enterprises to restrict coverage of misconduct or the negative consequences of enterprises. In many cases, perpetrators are able to escape accountability because of influence over law enforcement or state protection of their activities.
An urgent related issue related to freedom of expression and media freedom this year are natural resource issues in the form of land disputes, illegal logging, mining, or energy projects. Cases in country reports on Burma, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Vietnam tell of community struggles to protect their livelihood by protesting against incursion.
The trend is related to the norm with which economic development and integration are being pursued at the cost of human rights, particularly the right of ordinary citizens to speak out and be heard through the media. Journalists also become victims of violence when they try to cover disputes or uncover issues.
In must be emphasized that these issues are not simply local since they often involve foreign investment. Here ASEAN, and the impact of its drive toward regional economic integration by promoting investments from member countries, has some bearing and deserves a review.
ASEAN's human rights bodies and development processes must begin to take the impact of land issues now, as the region prepares in launching the economic community in 2015. For instance, Thailand and Vietnam are among the top three investors in Laos, and whose ventures or projects are often connected with land disputes.
In some cases, like in those in Indonesia, violence against the journalists relates to ignorance of the media right to relay information to the public or as an assertion of authority of state security personnel to maintain control over the situation.However, the Philippines still has the highest number of journalists killed in 2013 with four cases.
The problem, like in state sponsored violence, arises when cases are not given redress or even investigated at all.
Perhaps the best story to emerge on the media from 2012 is the dramatic changes in the conduct of politics and media in Burma, officially known as Myanmar.
The regional media community is excitedly monitoring and engaging in the developments affecting their colleagues in the country where the environment has significantly relaxed. Still, changes in the media environment appear to be tentative, and cannot be described as true reform in the absence of legal and structural transformations.
The good news is that, to a certain extent, seeds of change similar to those happening in Burma are also becoming palpable in other countries. Be it in the valiant of grassroots communities in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to defend land rights, or the palpable shift in the political landscape of Malaysia and Vietnam, the right to freedom of opinion and expression has become an important forum for change. Hopefully, these changes will lead to a substantial shift in media freedom in Southeast Asia for the better.