News

Rights Groups: Asian Media Freedoms Under Fire

Ron Corben

Rights groups say media freedoms across Southeast Asia are under threat with arrests of reporters and bloggers and new legislation targeting journalists. There is a shifting legal landscape for journalists in Thailand, Vietnam and Burma.

In a report marking World Press Freedom Day, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) says Southeast Asian governments are turning to new legislation in a bid to control new media.

SEAPA says the key trend is that governments are shifting focus from traditional broadcast and print media to social media and online news.

SEAPA Executive Director Gayathry Venkiteswaran said online news sites have become the most frequent target of government crackdowns.

“There is definitely attempts by the governments to block the holes because the traditional media, they know how to deal with that presumably," said Venkiteswaran. "Now with the onslaught of the online media, citizen agendas and bloggers - so there’s attempts to use some of the old approaches and at the same time to introduce control blocking, some successful, some unsuccessful.”

Photo Gallery

Restricting the Web

Five governments in Southeast Asia have set in place laws to control the Internet to the same degree as traditional media.

Vietnam has stepped up measures to control so-called “illegal websites.” The tough approach has led to 19 online reporters or ‘netizens’ being detained together with five journalists. Those detained include a Catholic priest and three other bloggers and writers accused of “anti-state propaganda.”

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said authorities are targeting individual cases to send a message to other writers.

“They’ll continue to go after the individual cases while they’re trying to find systematic approaches to shut down critical comment on the Internet. That could be a mixture of using fire walls, trying to block individual servers and then going after dissidents,” said Robertson.

Robertson said the general trend across Asia is of a retreat in media freedoms.

Battling for reforms amid crackdowns

Reporters without Borders listed Vietnam near the bottom (172nd) of the 179 countries on its press freedom index, saying arrests and harassment of pro-democracy supporters has been on the rise.

In Burma, authorities have relaxed strict media laws as part of a broad campaign to implement pro-democratic political reforms. New media legislation is expected to be presented in Burma’s parliament later this year that could further improve the country’s media environment.

But critics - including Debbie Stothard, spokesperson for rights group Alternative ASEAN Network - caution that the reforms could fall short of expectations.

“The authorities have not yet shared what’s in the text of the media law. But previously they have mentioned that although the law is supposed to be one of the most progressive media laws in the region, they were still drawing on elements from Vietnam, which is not exactly a bastion of media freedom,” said Stothard.

Aung Zaw, editor of the Thailand-based on-line newspaper, The Irrawaddy, fears the conservative forces within the Burmese government could undermine greater media freedoms.

“This is a very crucial time. This is a transitional time for the country. But we don‘t know where it will lead to, and as the government ministers and some officials are very cautious - extremely cautious about letting the media report freely. So that makes me really worried about the media development,” said Aung Zaw.

Various laws used to control social media

Media freedoms also face an uncertain future in Thailand, where a series of people have been prosecuted under the country’s Lese Majeste laws. Although analysts say Thailand’s media overall has been largely free to debate political and social issues, the laws protecting the country’s monarchy still carry harsh penalties.

Earlier this week, a Thai criminal court postponed a verdict in a case against Thai online editor, Chiranuch Premchai, who faces criminal charges under Lese Majeste laws. Chiranuch is charged with failing to delete comments from the website fast enough. If found guilty, she faces at least 20 years in jail. The laws have been reinforced with the Computer Crimes Act.

In December, a 54-year-old Thai-born American citizen, Joe Gordon, also known as Lerpong Wichaikhammat, was sentenced to two and a half years in jail after pleading guilty under the Lese Majeste laws.

Benjamin Zawacki, an Asia researcher for Amnesty International, said the rising trend in sentencing of those accused under the Lese Majeste laws has created a climate of fear.

"The message is one of fear, really. The Lese Majeste law has a very long arm already and that’s been proven, for example, by the Joe Gordon case - whose offense, alleged offense, took place on U.S. soil," said Zawacki. "But the Chiranuch case I think demonstrates just substantially how long the arm is because no one claims, not even the prosecution claims, that the offensive speech belongs to Chiranuch.”

More broadly in Asia, analysts say that online media has created more opportunities for political and social discussion, and in some countries has helped to “level” lopsided domestic media. They say new media in Malaysia and Singapore have helped opposition parties that have long struggled to grow their public voice.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Cả Thộn
May 03, 2012 10:43 AM
Hey, not too bad, Vietnam still beats North Korea in this matter ! Bravo !

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs