[Regional] Declaration of Support for Strategic Regional Actions to Promote and Protect Media Freedom and Free Expression in Southeast Asia

We, the undersigned – speakers and participants in the two-day regional forum, “Towards Building Regional Solidarity to Reclaim Civic Space in Southeast Asia”, jointly organized by the Asia Democracy Network and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, held in Tangerang, Indonesia, on June 21-22, 2019,

Declaring that societies thrive on the free exchange of ideas and diverse viewpoints, vigorous yet respectful debate, and unfettered access to information – all of which are vital cog in the wheel of transparent, responsible, and participatory governance;

Upholding the fundamental right of all people to freedom of expression, regardless of race, color, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation or belief;

Maintaining that free expression is inextricably linked to freedom of thought and serves the people’s right to make informed choices, as ideas are shared and debated freely and openly, without fear of government restraint or reprisal;

Asserting the important role of the press in democracy – holding power to account, informing the public, helping ensure robust public discussions, and providing a forum to facilitate a plurality and diversity of voices in the public arena; all of which have profound long-lasting impacts on democracy and human development;

Deeply concerned about the unrelenting attacks on the media, particularly at a time when its role has never been more crucial in ensuring an enlightened and empowered citizenry amid wanton abuse of power by many state authorities;

Worried that intimidation, threats, and pressures against journalists and human rights defenders stoke fundamentalism, violence, and polarization in society;

Alarmed by the escalating government suppression of the freedom of speech and of the press, growing attacks against journalists and human rights defenders, and enactment of a spate of repressive and draconian laws that violate these rights while quashing dissent and closing down civic space;

Disturbed that media capture or the corporatization of the media, and state cooptation of the press act as a deterrent to freedom of speech and propagate an unequal system where voices of the powerful and rich are heard over those at the margins;

Convinced that the advent of disinformation, amid rising populist authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, has given rise to the use of online platforms to discredit the media and scale up attacks against journalists and human rights defenders, including women who have become targets of misogynistic hate campaigns;

Noting that while digital technologies have facilitated wider access to information and meaningful conversations on important issues, they have also served as tools to sow hate and divisions, thus deepening polarization among the people;

Recognizing that all sectors of society have a stake in promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression, building and sustaining a free and independent press, and contesting the closing space for media and civil society;

Further recognizing that countering shrinking civic space is an urgent task that requires a coordinated and multi-stakeholder response, both at the national and regional levels;

Acknowledging the need for media, civil society, and other sectors of society to come together to explore opportunities for strategic collective action – while mutually supporting each other – in the fight for press freedom and the right to freedom of expression;

Forging a vision of society where media report freely and independently on issues affecting the public, and where all people enjoy their right to freedom of opinion and expression, calling to mind Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Now therefore declare, in a spirit of solidarity, our resolve to:

  • Work together earnestly in countering the challenges confronting press freedom and freedom of expression across the region;
  • Engage in constant dialogue to share experiences and identify ways in which we could respond collectively to the challenges confronting these rights; and
  • Commit to supporting and taking part in a multi-stakeholder network, and similar initiatives that will seek to push back against the shrinking civic in Southeast Asia.

This Declaration is endorsed by:

1. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
2. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
3. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
4. Center for Political Studies of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)
5. Gusdurian Network Indonesia (GNI)
6. Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP) Indonesia
7. Indonesia Television Journalist Association (IJTI)
8. International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID)
9. People’s Voter Education Networks (JPPR)
10. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)
11. Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
12. Thai Journalists Association (TJA)
13. The Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN)
14. The Association for Elections and Democracy (PERLUDEM)

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