Each year on 3rd May, the world pauses to acknowledge the essential work of journalists and media professionals everywhere on World Press Freedom Day. In a video address this week, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres explained, "this day highlights a basic truth: all our freedom depends on press freedom".
To commemorate World Press Freedom Day 2023, Telum asked a selection of journalists across Southeast Asia how they feel press freedom has evolved in the past 12 months, and what change they would like to see in the year ahead.
Sasmito Madrim, Chairman, The Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia (AJI) (Indonesia)
Happy World Press Freedom Day to journalists and media workers! Journalists face many challenges, ranging from regulations that threaten press freedom to increasing violence against journalists - Attacks on journalists and independent media organisations never end.
In 2022, The Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia recorded at least 61 separate cases of violence against the press, with 97 journalists and 14 media organisations subjected to attacks. Between January and April 30 2023, 33 cases of violence against the press have been recorded; an increase compared to the same period in 2022 (just 15 cases).
Violence, digital attacks and disinformation campaigns are also being perpetrated against human rights defenders and other critical groups in an attempt to delegitimise them for expressing opinions and informing the public both online and offline.
However, as it always does, journalism will find a way to continue to serve the public and the truth.
Pongpiphat Banchanont, Senior Editor, The MATTER (Thailand)
In the past year, the media and communication professionals of Thailand (PR agencies, influencers, etc.) have been spared from the government's attempts to pass a draft of the Media Ethics and Professional Standards Act, which had people concerned that it could control the media more than promote media ethics. Due to strong objection, the Parliament did not dare pass this bill, and it is now gone for good, since the Prime Minister (Prayut Chan-o-cha) announced the dissolution of Parliament.
The challenge for the coming year is navigating the implementation of the nation's Personal Data Protection Act. Even with exceptions for the media, there are concerns that it may still be used for censorship at various levels. The matter of improving the safety of media workers in the field still needs to be pushed forward as we still see reports of journalists being subjected to attacks while on duty. Many journalists have been shot with rubber bullets, but still, no one has stepped up or taken any responsibility. Recently, a Thai photographer was also threatened in their own home.
What we would like to see is increased support to disclose information, facilitate the practice of free journalism, and consider the safety of the media.
Ken Low, Senior Reporter at Lianhe Zaobao (Singapore)
Media freedom of speech has undergone significant changes in the past year, with the two biggest factors being artificial intelligence and the pandemic. The common feature of these two is that they provide more reasonable reasons for relevant authorities to regulate the media.
For example, in order to ensure the accuracy of pandemic-related reports, relevant authorities pay more rigorous attention to media coverage and indirectly control content. Similarly, to ensure that media reports are not mainly based on artificial intelligence-generated information or data, relevant authorities can also indirectly control content.
Jerome Lantin, Anchor, DWBL (Philippines)
I have to give credit to President (Bongbong) Marcos' administration. Since his party took over, there is a sense amongst media practitioners that freedom of speech is improving. Moving forward, I hope press freedom will no longer be censored or threatened anywhere, because during tough times, we must rely on a free press to inform us.
Jade Buhoy, News Reporter, Golden Nation Network (Philippines)
In today’s generation, information spreads so swiftly that we must use our influence to raise awareness about journalism and its power to shape society. And as a watchdog, we must act upon the call to serve the nation by helping people understand that emancipation starts when truthful information is provided.