THE ASIA MEDIA DIRECTORY 2012
Second half of 2012
LAST UPDATE: MARCH 2013
edited by Alastair Carthew and Simon Winkelmann
For this Asia Pacific Media Update covering the second half of 2012, we have continued our look westwards with the addition of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, bringing our list of Asia-Pacific countries surveyed to 33.
The overall trends identified during this period were:
• An encouraging move toward lifting censorship restrictions
• Myanmar’s continued transformation of the media landscape
• Governments are increasingly attempting to regulate online media
• Censorship is still alive and thriving in many countries
• Threats and violence against journalists continued
• Pakistan and the Philippines remain the most deadly places for journalists
• More journalists demonstrating in the streets against editorial policies
• Some unusual events, such as hoax radio calls going wrong and another attack on Japan’s closed Kisha system
Taking the two new countries first. In Tajikistan the blocking then reinstatement of Facebook and the formation of a journalists group dedicated to Internet freedom featured prominently, while in Turkmenistan an unprecedented use of social media to by-pass the state controlled official media to report on a major catastrophe was witnessed.
There was an encouraging drift toward raising censorship restrictions or drafting new media laws in several countries. Most notable was Myanmar, which ended a 50 year practice of censorship and also signaled it would allow private daily newspapers to publish plus the establishment of a self-governing press council. Others were Fiji, where journalists were encouraged to take advantage of the lifting of censorship and Kyrgyzstan, where a number of new media laws were adopted including those directed against defamation. In Kazakhstan an attempt to close down some 40 opposition media outlets and websites and the presentation of an “Ethics Codex” by journalists were prominent developments.
In tiny Bhutan, new draft media laws were introduced. Bangladesh also adopted several pieces of legislation that were welcomed by media monitors. In India, the prime minister encouraged self-regulation over censorship in the country’s robust media, despite other calls for regulation.
Singapore produced a major study on convergence of the media and featured strong support for an Internet code of conduct, although the report also called for licensing of foreign online broadcasting services. Sri Lanka planned to enact recommendations from a commission on national reconciliation designed to prevent attacks on the media. Uzbekistan held a major conference on draft media laws and the transparency of state institutions.
Restrictions and Censorship Continue
However, censorship and the planned introduction of restrictive laws were also present in many countries, particularly as applied to the Internet. Protests by journalists were more common. In Thailand, the lèse majesté laws against insulting the monarchy were again a major source of contention, leading to a huge increase in website blockages. South Korea endured a prolonged media strike over alleged censorship by broadcasting bosses. In Vietnam, a draft decree forcing foreign content providers to increase co-operation with authorities was planned. In Afghanistan, a government revision of a 2009 media law would force journalists to “observe the principles of Islam.” Indonesia planned a bill on mass media organisations which was criticised as a threat to press freedom.
Deaths, Threats and Violence
Pakistan and the Philippines remained the deadliest countries in the region. Three journalists died in Pakistan, making it the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists behind Mexico. In the Philippines, a report by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) found 36 cases in the country of impunity against the exercise of freedom of expression, including nine murders. In Bangladesh a journalist was shot dead. Cambodian journalists also experienced acts of violence against them. Attacks on journalists also featured heavily in Mongolia, as did defamation cases. In Nepal journalists were threatened amidst a gradual decline in media freedom noted by a respected watchdog group. Papua New Guinea also featured threats and intimidation against journalists, particularly during a recent election.
Enforcing Old Laws
Some countries never deviated from enforcing long held media laws. Tiny Brunei was one, where strong emergency laws have been in place since 1962. Similarly, in Timor-Leste a culture of deference and respect toward the government continued, although the Timor-Leste Press Club did come out in support of two journalists being sued by officials. Laos’ criminal code still allows for jailing journalists.
China’s Influence Spreads
China has a variety of media incidents and issues, including the detention of a Chinese journalist by Japan, the release of a dissident blogger and even the opening of a television bureau in Kenya. China’s influence was also felt in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Taiwan, journalists protested over the sale of some media assets to a pro-China media group. In Hong Kong, the venerable South China Morning Post became the news with protests against the editor allegedly practicing self-censorship to avoid offending China.
Online Media Controls
Government attempts to introduce legislation or regulations to monitor or control online media continued unabated. In Malaysia, the government proposed a Media Council to oversee self-regulation in the media. However, the prime minister also promised to abolish several restrictive acts. New Zealand’s government also planned to adopt a recommendation to regulate new media against cyber-bullying.
Some unusual events took place. In Australia, a hoax radio call that went badly wrong and lurid, unsubstantiated claims against a politician led to calls for greater regulation of the media. The government commissioned Finkelstein report into the Australian media sparked heated opposition from media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch. In Japan, an attempt was made by freelance journalists to break into the closed shop of the famous Kisha Clubs, which give privileged access to chosen media, but did not progress very far.
Overall, the second six months of 2012 confirmed an ongoing trend by governments to try and control the power of the Internet and produced an encouraging move toward less censorship. However, violence against journalists is an ever presence menace in many countries. The region continues to house many countries at the lower end of the world press media index.
Paul Linnarz, Director Media Programme Asia