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Nation: Surin pitches for Asean
- Subject: Nation: Surin pitches for Asean
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 08 Nov 1998 01:23:00
Surin pitches for Asean
FOREIGN Minister Surin Pitsuwan said a
free press was the best guarantee for
sustaining reform and forcing accountability
in the public and private sectors.
In his keynote speech at a regional seminar
on ''Promoting and Monitoring the
Southeast Asian Press'' Surin said issues
such as greater transparency, openness,
human rights and press freedom would
dominate the agenda of Southeast Asian
societies well into the next century.
He said that Thailand led the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in press
Surin, who is a former newspaper
columnist, said that society had a duty to
safeguard press freedom. He said that
newspapers were owned by individuals and
corporations but freedom of the press
belonged to the people.
''Freedom is indivisible. It is all or none,'' he
stated. ''It is therefore the duty of each
member of society not only to safeguard the
freedom of the press but also to ensure the
safety of its practitioners.''
Thailand passed the Information Act in
September, the first country in Southeast
Asia to do so. The act allows public access
to government-held information.
He said press freedom in Thailand had
come about by default not design, with
journalists having had to fight those in
power for the freedom they enjoyed today.
The government has been trying to promote
Bangkok as the hub of the foreign press by
welcoming correspondents wishing to set
up stations here. The government allows
press liberty, access to officials and,
overall, a friendly atmosphere, he added.
The two-day regional seminar brought in
two dozen representatives and media
experts from the Philippines, Indonesia,
Thailand and North America.
With Indonesia's growing freedom of
expression, the Southeast Asian press has
become more vibrant, but journalists have
to continue their struggle against existing
anti-press laws aimed at curbing their
Attmakusumah Astraatmadja, executive
director of the Soetomo Press Institute,
said that Indonesian journalists were
demanding more press freedom.
Although the government has proposed a
more liberal press law, there are as many
as 13 articles that restrict press freedom,
he said. ''These are what we call 'the blank
cheques' of the new draft press law,''
Since former President Suharto stepped
down in May, 350 new licences for
newspapers, tabloids and magazines have
been issued by the Indonesian Ministry of
Echoing this sentiment was Kiatichai
Pongpanich, senior editor of Khao Sod,
who said that a genuine, free press had to
find expression in written laws and the
Constitution. Media institutes and
journalists have fought long and hard and
have contributed to the development of
press freedom through the constitutional
drafting process last year, he emphasised.
While the Constitution says that the press is
free to disseminate news and opinion,
there are still archaic anti-press laws in
existence which need to be eradicated to
ensure free freedom, he said, adding that
the Thai public was suspicious of
government-owned electronic media
because of its monopoly. ''This has
certainly made our Thai public probably put
more trust in the press and regard its
freedom as a social commitment.
Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive
director of the Philippines-based Centre for
Media Freedom and Responsibility, urged
readers to be more critical and demand
''They [the newspapers] have caught on that
ordinary readers do not read news critically
and don't write to complain about
inaccuracies and false reports,'' she said.
''Freedom is wasted when the press grows
complacent and gets too comfortable,'' she
Media experts from the North
American-based Committee to Protect
Journalists, the International Freedom of
Expression Exchange and the World Press
Freedom Committee discussed
international networking and global press
They also offered tips and encouragement
for the regional press to sustain and
promote freedom of expression.
The seminar, which ends on Sunday, is
expected to adopt a resolution to form a
Southeast Asian press alliance, the
region's first non-Western, independent,
non-governmental organisation, which will
promote and monitor press freedom in the