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Watchdog to protect free press
- Subject: Watchdog to protect free press
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 09 Nov 1998 01:06:00
Watchdog to protect free
INDEPENDENT journalism organisations
from Thailand, Indonesia and the
Philippines yesterday announced the
formation of a regional alliance to support
and promote the freedom of the press in
The new joint effort, named the Southeast
Asian Press Alliance (Seapa), grew out of
a weekend seminar hosted by the
Reporters' Association of Thailand (RAT) in
conjunction with the World Press Freedom
Committee (WPFC) and the US-based
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
''This is a landmark development in the
history of the Southeast Asian press,'' said
Kavi Chongkittavorn, a member of the
alliance's six-member steering committee.
''We journalists have to be able to defend
ourselves and help our Asian colleagues.''
Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan
addressed the seminar on Saturday,
affirming that press freedom was vital to
ensuring reform in the public and private
''Freedom is indivisible. It is all or none,''
Surin said. ''It is therefore the responsibility
of each member of society not only to
safeguard the freedom of the press but also
to ensure the safety of its practitioners.''
''Press freedom, while representing a basic
human right, is probably not universally
accepted [in this region] because
transparency and openness run counter to
vested interests,'' Surin added.
Traditionally both Thailand and the
Philippines have maintained high levels of
press freedom. Press freedom in Indonesia
has burgeoned only recently, however, due
to the political upheavals beginning in May.
More than 350 new publication titles have
been granted by the Indonesian
government in the past six months.
Twenty-five representatives from six
independent journalistic organisations in
the three countries participated in the
seminar, including the Philippine Centre for
Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the Centre
for Media Freedom and Responsibility
(CMFR) of the Philippines, the
Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent
Journalists (AJI) and the Institute of Studies
in the Free Flow of Information (ISAI), also
based in Indonesia.
Seminar participants affirmed their
commitment to supporting journalists'
efforts in neighbouring countries, noting that
it was the first time that free regional press
organisations had banded together to
promote Southeast Asian concerns.
''It is about time that the regional journalists
got their acts together,'' commented
Chutima Buranaratchada, president of
Veteran Indonesian journalist and executive
director of the Soetono Press Institute
Attmakusumah Astraatmadja also
welcomed the move. ''The Indonesian press
can learn from its neighbours,'' he said.
''We support your efforts and applaud this
endeavour,'' said James Ottaway, the
chairman of WPFC.
Both CPJ and WPFC pledged to assist the
alliance in its development. ''This is vital
work,'' said A Lin Neumann, the Asia
programme director for CPJ.
The alliance plans to set up a secretariat in
Bangkok next year to monitor attacks on
journalists and threats to the press in
Southeast Asia. It will also encourage
governments in Southeast Asia to reform
repressive media laws and relax
restrictions on the press.
The new body intends to include
independent journalistic organisations
throughout the region and was formed in
response to the growth of press freedom in
the three countries initially involved.
Through its networks in the three countries,
Seapa may undertake a variety of action
such as issuing formal letters of concern
and protest, making direct requests to
governments on behalf of journalists and
conducting in-depth research missions.
So far the long-established Confederation
of Asean Journalists, based in Jakarta, is
the only regionwide media organisation. Its
members come from government-run news
agencies and newspapers.
organisations, however, have long
monitored the press and the fates of
journalists victimised by repressive
governments in the region. Each year they
have recorded hundreds of cases of
press-freedom violations, with the
Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres
recently expressing concern about the
climate for journalists covering Malaysia's