Work for media freedom towards the fulfillment of human rights

Statement of the SEAPA General Assembly 2014

DECEMBER 10 – We, members of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, gathering in Kanchanaburi, Thailand for our General Assembly mark International Anti-Corruption Day (December 9) and Human Rights Day with the resolve to reorganize and strengthen the alliance to make it more capable to meet regional press freedom and  freedom of expression challenges.

These two commemorative days provide a meaningful backdrop to the issues we discussed in our meeting. Also, these point to the bigger contexts of our goals as an alliance of media freedom advocates in our respective countries and in the region as a whole.

The fulfillment of human rights, particularly the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the practice of good governance in Southeast Asia are still a far reality in the region.

In Cambodia, there is an ongoing continuing crackdown on activists, human rights defenders and opposition party members seeking to express legitimate socio-economic and political issues. We wish to express deep concern not only about the crackdown but also the role of the judiciary in legitimizing these restrictive actions.

In Malaysia, a crackdown on free expression has targeted activists and journalists using the Sedition Act, making the simple act of speaking out a crime against the state. The government has not only reversed an earlier promise to abolish the outdated law, but has even recently pledged to strengthen it.

Impunity for violence against journalists is also a rising problem, not only in the Philippines and Indonesia, but also increasingly in Cambodia and Myanmar. State and non-state actors intimidate and target activists and journalists, who are increasingly becoming targets for exposing human rights abuses and corruption.

Moreover, victims of violent acts are seldom able to receive justice from the state, escpecially in cases involving security officials. New procedures are also being introduced to protect state officials from prosecution.

The crackdown on free media and expression is taking place amid a regional trend of concentration towards politicized (state and party-owned) and crony business media ownership – particularly in the broadcast media industry – that makes media more vulnerable to manipulation and censorship.

New laws regulating mainstream, online and social media are being enacted to extend to criminalize the discussion of ‘sensitive’ topics even for self-expression.

Set against the backdrop of setbacks in democratic accountability caused by political monopolies of entrenched parties and militaries, the spaces for media freedom and free expression have drastically reduced.

We take special note of the situation in Thailand, where the media are under direct orders from the coup makers to refrain from disseminating any criticism of the new regime, including prohibiting interviews of certain sources. These are other restrictions create an atmosphere of repression in Thai society, encouraging self-censorship in the mainstream and social media, and beyond.

We remind governments that the fulfillment of human rights and the practice of transparency and accountability is an obligation to their consituents. Furthermore, the increasing role of ASEAN in member governments’ common objectives for regional integration make these goals also a mutual imperative.

In the struggle for human rights and against corruption, the role of free, diverse and vibrant media is crucial.

As journalists and freedom of expression advocates, we are aware of the need to expand the ranks of committed organizations and  individuals working to advance our goals.

We affirm the role of online citizens as part of the journalistic community, who have the responsibility to access and disseminate information on behalf of and to articulate positions and analysis with different communities.

As a network, we will advocate, campaign and forge greater  solidarity for press freedom, and the rule of law. We will also  assert our rights to push the boundaries of press freedom by creating and practicing good and critical journalism.

We challenge our governments, ASEAN and the ranks of media as  well to work together towards the fulfillment of human rights  and the end of corruption.

SEAPA members:
Aliansi Journalis Independen Indonesia (AJI Indonesia)
Burma News International (BNI)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
Center for Independent Journalism – Malaysia (CIJ Malaysia)
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility – Philippines (CMFR)
Institut Studi Arus Informasi – Indonesia (ISAI)
Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN)
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)
Thai Journalists Association (TJA)
Timor Leste Journalists Association (TLJA)

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