Solidarity Key to Strong Press Freedom in Southeast Asia

It has not been an easy year for journalists, journalism and press freedom in Southeast Asia. The already difficult condition for news organization has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hundreds of journalists across the region have lost their jobs as news outlets’ revenue continue to decline and many more suffered pay-cuts with no job security. UNESCO also highlighted the widespread harassment and intimidation of women journalists online in a new report entitled “The Chilling” launched in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day in 2021.

Yet against these odds, journalists, media workers, and press freedom advocates have come together once again in solidarity on this 3 May to commemorate World Press Freedom Day with the global theme “Information as a Public Good.”

In Malaysia, the United Nations Office, SUHAKAM and the Embassy of the Netherlands organized a discussion with national authorities, media houses, civil society and academia. One of the speakers, the multiple award-winning investigative journalist and filmmaker Mahi Ramakrishan, urged authorities to focus on improving structural weaknesses reported by the media rather than to going after the journalists who reported on the issues.

In the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), and the Philippines Press Institute organized an in-depth discussion on the evolution of press freedom in the country. Speakers discussed the safety of journalists, the issue of franchise and the future of the news industry in the country. Melinda Quintos de Jesus, the Executive Director of CMFR posed a challenge to the society to support the press by arguing, that “there is no free press, if the people is not there to protect press freedom.”

In a separate event organized by the International Association for Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) chapter in the Philippines, journalists and researchers participated in a commemoration of WPFD. Women journalists from different South Asia and Southeast Asia countries joined the event and shared the challenges they faced in carrying out their reporting. One of the top challenges nowadays includes the lack of protection including proper health insurance or precaution when reporting on the pandemic. Some speakers also noted the continued harassments and intimidations they experience while carrying out their work.

The event was also joined by veteran journalist, Maria Ressa, the founder and CEO of Rappler who was named as the recipient of the 2021 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Ressa also repeated the call to reinvigorate the spirit of the community of journalists in the face of mounting challenges from different fronts.

In Indonesia, the Alliance of Independent Journalists launched its “Advocacy Platform for Journalists and Media” which monitors and record information on safety and protection of journalists and press freedom in the country. This platform is supported by UNESCO within the framework of monitoring and reporting of Indicator 16.10.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

This year’s WPFD is a special one historically. It coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration which was adopted in Namibia during a conference organized by UNESCO in 1991. This document eventually paved the way for the WPFD to be adopted as an official international day by the United Nations General Assembly two years later.

UNESCO is the principal UN agency that promotes the freedom of expression including its corollary of press freedom and access to information. It is the global facilitator of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity as well as the Custodian Agency tasked to report and monitor on the progress of the Indicator 16.10.2 on access to information of the SDG.

 

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