Social media campaign reminds us that journalists are the best advocates for press freedom.
SEAPA’s ‘Speak for Press Freedom’ social media campaign for World Press Freedom Day 2014 aimed to highlight regional journalists’ concerns over press freedom and to build solidarity among them.
Behind the scenes, SEAPA also asked our immediate network – former fellows and campaign participants by email to encourage them to send their responses.
It took and initial push by Nai Nai, SEAPA’s Fellowship coordinator to get the first few responses, but after the campaign became public on 28 April, the network became more enthusiastic in sending in their ideas.
“We believe that it is more important to hear the journalists’ voices for World Press Freedom Day,” explained Gayathry Venkiteswaran, SEAPA executive director.
“More often, these are marginalized or unheard on this day,” she continued, “and reading their responses, it became more meaningful than if we just issued a statement.”
At the end of the campaign on 13 May, SEAPA received 74 messages from eight Southeast Asian countries: Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Timor Leste, and Vietnam. A journalist from India also sent a contribution.
Among the messages, 38 came from alumni of SEAPA Annual Journalism Fellowship Program. And while journalists comprised the bulk of the contributors, media trainers, documentary/film makers, academics, and freedom of expression advocates also lent their voices.
Messages received ranged from current issues of intimidation and pressure on regional media, to structural limitations on freedom of expression, such as draconian laws, uncertain politics, and need to strengthen press freedom as a fundamental right for the region’s peoples.
Ten messages from Thailand reflected the need for improving the quality of media freedom, which has been deeply affected by political divisions, and the less-than-transparent influences and threats to the work of journalists.
Perhaps reflecting the dramatic changes in the country since 2012 Burma journalists topped the contributors with 25 messages, the highest number from all over the region. Their voices highlighted the prevailing oppressive laws, recent cases of assault and imprisonment of journalists, and the limited freedom to access to information.
The practitioners well aware that the country’s media freedom is at a critical juncture and media has a critical this transitional period.
Meanwhile, the messages from Philippines and Indonesia, democratic countries with higher levels of media freedom flagged the ugly realities in the media environment, including threats to safety, the role of media owners and the lack of justice for cases of killings.
As of 2014, Philippines still stands at the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Besides, the case of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao, the most horrific incident of journalists killing in world history, has barely moved forward in court.
Fourteen Filipino journalists shared their voices for the SEAPA campaign, the second highest number after Burma.
At the same time, activists and journalists from Malaysia shared their opinions on the necessity press freedom to a person and to society in order to confront and solve the hardest issues.
At the other end of shares in contributed quotes are Vietnam and Cambodia. Still, the messages affirmed the rights and roles of journalists’ as bearers of truth, as well as being part of solutions to national issues.
Meanwhile, one message from Burma gave a regional perspective insisting that regional governments including ASEAN promote and guarantee ‘free speech’ and ‘free press’ so as to build a truly democratic region.
Chen Shaua Fui, a 2013 SEAPA fellow from Malaysia wrote back to SEAPA, “This is the first time I actually feel that we have a journalist community in the region and really proud to be part of it.” [See Shaua Fui's article about this campaign at fz.com]
The messages also opened the doors to learn the diverse and similar situations of different countries for the awareness on press freedom.
In the future, SEAPA hopes to encourage journalists from Laos, Singapore, and Brunei, to contribute.
To sum up, a recurring message from regional journalists asks simply to be able to do their job freely, safely so that they can better inform and serve the public’s interest.
Messages from eight countries