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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora