Orienting Speech Online

At Prachathai 02_nBangkok – The annual SEAPA Journalism Fellowship kicked off on 12 August with a three-day Orientation program aimed at assisting the Fellows in preparing for their stories and fieldwork.

During the program the Fellows – from Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia – had discussions with experts on Internet governance and newsroom practices, exchanges on country fieldwork experience, and received guidance from editors and alumni for their proposed stories.

Expert sessions

Over the period of three days Fellows heard from scholar, industry player, and activists about internet governance and challenges.

SEAPA’s Communications and Alert Coordinator, Ed Legaspi introduced a broad view current challenges to internet governance, including privacy, state surveillance and content restrictions. Ed drew attention to the remarkable severity of the threats given that the internet is a young medium compared to print and broadcast.

Professor Ubonrat Siriyuvasak focused on a key pillar of internet communications – the internet service providers. Speech is being doubly taxed, Professor Ubolrat explained, first by corporations imposing payments based on the amount of bytes sent through its network, and secondly by regulators which define restrictions on content. Her presentation excerpted Bob Frankston’s proposal for community ownership of internet infrastructures.

Google Policy Adviser Lokman Tsui, and Forum-Asia Programme Officer John Liu answered questions from the Fellows about privacy invasion by both state and corporations, and Google’s stake in free speech.

John said that corporations are increasingly seen as key players in human rights protection, and the UN has principles for business compliance to human rights standards which are not legally binding and can only be enforced on a voluntary basis.

As a service provider, Google’s has a stake in ensuring that it is not held liable by the state to keep track of its users’ messages lest it loses credibility. On privacy, it publishes a yearly Transparency Report and urges governments to do the same, Lokman said.

Sharing of experiences

This year SEAPA devised three platforms to facilitate discussions among the Fellows: the Media Zar-gar-wine, a town-hall style session; case study of Sermsuk Kasidipradit; and Tovati, a debate session.

In Media Zar-gar-wine Fellows spoke about the challenges to media freedom in their own countries and their motivation for joining the Fellowship.

Journalist in Thailand’s PBS channel, Sermsuk Kasidipradit shared his recent police questioning following his Facebook posting. The senior journalist’s case sparked a discussion on how media outlets juggle between keeping up with the viral information online without compromising news standards.

In Tovati, the Fellows joined hands with the Alumni (Pongpan Chumjai, Nares Laopannarai, Sujane Kane, Prakaidao Bangsuntia, Piyaporn Wongruang and Aung Zaw Min) in a debate about the limits (or limitless) of speech on social media.

The lighthearted session allowed for networking between participants as well as exchange of viewpoints, said SEAPA’s Executive Director, Gayathry Venkiteswaran.


The program’s editor Mahesh Uniyal and SEAPA’s Executive Director, Gayathry commented on each Fellows story’s proposal.They also provided guidelines on interview techniques in a role play exercise for conducting interviews in different fieldwork scenarios.

2013 Fellow Nangchanok Wongsamuth appreciated the feedback saying, “I thought he (Mahesh) and also other Fellows and SEAPA staff gave honest and interesting criticism.”

Fellows whose fieldwork is in Burma also benefited from tips and guidance from an Burmese Alumni, Aung Zaw Min, who has extensive experience guiding journalists inside the country. Aung Zaw Min was present throughout the three-day Orientation.

Visiting Prachatai

Fellows visited the office of Prachatai, an independent online news outlet, to wrap up the Orientation.

They heard Prachatai Director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn share the news outlet’s storied journey as a pioneering online and independent news organization in Thailand, and discussed views on free speech and ethics, including her case of intermediary liability under the 2007 Computer Crimes act.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn is also one of the members of the Fellowship Selection Committee.

The Fellows were required to submit a draft outline to SEAPA before they left for their fieldwork. After ten days, a five-day Debriefing program will be held whereby Editors will be reviewing and commenting Fellow’s articles. They will submit their final draft during the Debriefing.

The Fellowship this year  also introduced something new: two Fellows will be selected based on their completed stories to attend the 2013 Internet Governance Forum in Bali. The annual event will be held in Southeast Asia for the first time , and is one of the reasons for this year’s fellowship theme is Freedom of Expression Challenges to Internet Governance in Southeast Asia.

The 2013 Fellowship was conducted with a supporting grant from Open Society Foundations and Google. [by Yip Wai Fong]

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