Shooting the Messenger, Undermining Democracy

[SEAPA’s Statement on World Press Freedom Day]

Of all the attacks against media and its practitioners, none is more heinous than the slaying of journalists—and getting away with murder.

Nowhere is this anomaly more pronounced than in Southeast Asia, where by SEAPA’s reckoning at least seven media workers were killed in several countries in 2010 just because they were performing their duties as members of media.

In the Philippines alone, four were killed in 2010. These were mostly radio broadcasters in the provinces who were silenced after they ran exposes of graft and corruption in local government offices. Indeed, the Philippines has the dubious record of having the most number of journalists killed in the line of duty in a single incident. We are referring to the Ampatuan Massacre, in which 32 media workers were shot dead in politically-related circumstances. The killings continue. This year, two were slain.

Elsewhere in the region, journalists were also targeted. One was killed in the line of duty in Indonesia in 2010. In Thailand, two foreign media workers were shot dead while they were covering the protest rallies last year.

But beyond the killings, the greater concern is how governments have responded to these crimes.

In the Philippines, the Ampatuan massacre case drags on while several potential witnesses were killed. In Thailand, the suspects behind the deaths of Reuters cameraman Muramoto and freelance photojournalist Polenghi remain unknown. In Indonesia, police discontinued the investigation into the slaying of reporter Ridwan Salamun, even forwarding the ludicrous suggestion that he provoked the riots where he eventually met his death.

As can be deduced, many of the suspects were able to get away with murder. Either because the concerned government and its agencies are incompetent or deliberately turning a blind eye to the crimes or are vulnerable to the power and influence of the perpetrators and their protectors in high places.

Impunity is a very serious offense against press freedom in the region.

As we in SEAPA observe World Press Freedom Day this year, we are outraged at the killings of our colleagues in the media and the slow pace of justice in the various countries in the region where these crimes take place.

We therefore would like to use this occasion to issue a strong call on the governments of these countries in Southeast Asia to ensure that journalists are given democratic space to practice their profession and be assured of their personal security and safety. We strongly urge the heads of these states to quicken the pace of investigation and prosecution of cases involving the killings of journalists.

Killing the messenger of bad tidings does not solve the problem of those in power. These heinous acts only further put a democratic society in danger.

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About SEAPA

SEAPA (http://www.seapabkk.org/) is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. It is composed of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI); the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association (TJA); and the network’s Kuala Lumpur-based associate member, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

SEAPA also has partners in Cambodia, East Timor, and exiled Burmese media, and undertakes projects and programs for press freedom throughout the region.

For inquiries, please contact us at: seapa@seapa.org, or call +662 243 5579.

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