Asiaweek Magazine Names SEAPA Member, Friends to “Power 50”

11 June 2001

BANGKOK – Free press advocates associated with the Southeast Asian Press Alliance cracked Asiaweek’s “Power 50” of Asia’s top communicators for the first time this year, as the magazine recognized some of the revolutionary changes sweeping across the region’s media industry.

At number 18 on the list, which was featured on the June 1-8 cover of the magazine, were the co-founders of Malaysiakini.com, the web site that has stretched the boundaries of free speech in normally staid, self-censored Malaysia. Editor Steven Gan and business manager Premesh Chandran were lauded for running “the country’s only credible, independent (news) voice.” The site, launched in late 1999, has been supported from its inception by SEAPA, which helped to raise start-up capital for the innovative – and widely praised – venture. Malaysia’s prickly Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad could hardly be pleased to find himself relegated to number 39 on the list, far below Malaysiakini.

Singaporean activist James Gomez joined the list at number 44. An author and founder of Think Centre Singapore, a free speech organization, Gomez is dedicated to widening the possibilities for real free speech in his country. “He has … exploited the Internet and the power of the media to strike a chord with citizens who want a more level political playing field,” Asiaweek said of Gomez. A frequent participant in SEAPA’s regional seminars, Gomez is the author of a chapter on Singapore in a forthcoming SEAPA book on Access to Information in Southeast Asia.

Finally, at number 46 is SEAPA Board member Sheila Coronel of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). It was Coronel’s groundbreaking work uncovering the hidden wealth of former President Joseph Estrada that helped lead to his impeachment and subsequent downfall. The magazine said of her: “It was Coronel’s Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism that helped bring down the Estrada administration by uncovering corrupt dealings. It was all in a day’s work for Coronel, whose ongoing mission it is to expose the misdeeds of those in public office.”

EXCERPTS FROM THE LIST:

18 Malaysiakini
AN INDEPENDENT VOICE
“Journalism helps ensure accountability by exposing abuse of power.”

The truth hurts – at least it does in Malaysia. The mainstream media rarely publish articles critical of the powers that be. Less compliant organs are aligned to opposition political parties. That leaves Web pioneer Malaysiakini as the country’s only credible, independent voice. Just over a year since it began operations, the site claims 250,000 readers a day.

This thorn in the side of the establishment is the brainchild of journalists Premesh Chandran, 32, and Steven Gan, 38, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. (Gan was arrested for having participated in a pro-East Timor meeting.) Malaysiakini is not making money, but it is breaking news. Last year it exposed an overseas holiday jaunt by former chief justice Eusoff Chin and his good friend, lawyer V.K. Lingam.

44 James Gomez
INTERNET POLITICAL ACTIVIST
“Singapore is a country that is tech-savvy but politically shy.”

Call him brash – or a breath of fresh air. Whatever Singaporeans make of James Gomez, he has certainly exploited the Internet and the power of the media to strike a chord with citizens who want a more level political playing field. Gomez, 36, is the founder of the Think Centre, an online network to promote political discussion. He has organized seminars on touchy subjects such as human rights, published a provocative book called Self-Censorship: Singapore’s Shame, and held a rally in support of veteran oppositionist Joshua B. Jeyaretnam. Gomez is unapologetic about his daring style, saying it serves to promote debate and get publicity for his cause. Now he is considering exporting his little revolution: a Think Centre Asia is a possibility, he says. Timid electorates of the world, unite.

46 Sheila Coronel
PHILIPPINE CORRUPTION FIGHTER
“We won’t run a story unless we know that even if we’re sued for libel, we’ll win.” Coronel’s biggest coup underlines the power of the press

With her slight frame and breathy, young girl’s voice, Sheila Coronel, 42, doesn’t exactly look intimidating. “[People] don’t take me seriously because I’m small,” she says. That has been the undoing of top Philippine government officials – including, indirectly, former president Joseph Estrada. It was Coronel’s Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism that helped bring down the Estrada administration by uncovering corrupt dealings. It was all in a day’s work for Coronel, whose ongoing mission it is to expose the misdeeds of those in public office.

Claiming her biggest scalp has given Coronel fame and strengthened her credibility. It also shows that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword – especially when the one wielding it looks so harmless.

Power 50 – The List
1. Li Hongzhi
2. Keiji Tachikawa
3. Ang Lee
4. Jiang Zemin
5. Vandana Shiva
6. Jang Ha Sung
7. Hadi Awang
8. Junichiro Koizumi
9. Masayoshi Son
10. William Ding
11. Onel de Guzman
12. Tadashi Yanai
13. Li Ka-shing
14. Kim Jong Il
15. Megawati Sukarnoputri
16. Carlos Ghosn
17. Liu Changle
18. Malaysiakini founders
19. Ishihara Shintaro
20. Filipino cell phone texters
21. Dalai Lama
22. Noboyuki Idei
23. Osama bin Laden
24. Lee Jae Woong
25. Daniel Chiang
26. Hikaru Utada
27. Naranaya Murthy of Infosys
28. Hu Shuli
29. Ananda Krishnan
30. Lee Kuan Yew
31. Hiroshi Mikitani
32. Thaksin Shinawatra
33. Ma Ying-jeou
34. Lee Kun Hee
35. Joseph Estrada
36. Jimmy Lai
37. Fu Mingxia
38. Cheong Choong Kong
39. Mahathir Mohamad
40. Oki Matsumoto
41. Razali Ismail
42. Coco Lee
43. James Murdoch
44. James Gomez
45. Pak Se Ri
46. Sheila Coronel
47. James Kim
48. Tarun Tejpal
49. Meechai Viravaidya
50. Ekta Kapoor

The full Power 50 Story is available at http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/features/power50.2001/