A small group of journalists attending the November 1997 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum were discussing the then-spreading Asian economic crisis over breakfast in a small Vancouver hotel, wondering aloud about where it would lead and why it was happening. At the table were Filipinos, Indonesians, Malaysians and Thais.
They all agreed that corruption, censorship, attacks on journalists, lack of accountability and opaque business dealings were a factor in the spreading financial gloom.
The Asian media, they said, had often either failed to warn their readers or were prevented from doing so by government regulation, harassment , and self-censorship.
‘We need a way to protect ourselves from all this,’ said one of those present. ‘Nobody else will do it. This crisis can help us do better. We need an Asian organization to advance press freedom.”
The organization envisioned is now a reality. With a regional office in Bangkok, SEAPA has established itself as the leading free expression advocacy and support group in Southeast Asia. It issues timely reports on free-expression violations in the region and runs a website that is a source for information and analysis on the press in the region.
It supports capacity-building efforts of press organizations in Cambodia and East Timor, and independent press initiatives in Malaysia.
As the first regional media organization campaigning for genuine press freedom, it aims to help expand the boundaries of free expression in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.