THE ASIA MEDIA DIRECTORY 2013

First half of 2013

LAST UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2013

edited by Alastair Carthew and Simon Winkelmann

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Asia Media Update

Overview

The overwhelming trend in the 33 countries analysed in the Asia Media Update for the first half of 2013, from Kazakhstan in the west to New Zealand in the east, are introducing, or planning to introduce, new media laws and regulations.

Fifteen countries are undergoing this process, much of it driven by the unrelenting growth of the Internet and the consequential explosion in social media, bloggers and netizens; some of it by internal political change. Governments across the region are either taking an even handed approach, or more draconian measures, to meet these challenges.

The trend is particularly strong in South East Asia. Myanmar’s media revolution continued with private dailies being allowed from 1 April as phase two of a media reform process, including the drafting of new press and broadcasting laws, creation of a public service media and a regional media system concept being developed.

In nearby Cambodia, the country’s first cyber law was announced to prevent “ill willed groups or individuals” from spreading false information; Laos is in the process of finally passing a law approved in 2008 allowing the right to free speech; Singapore suddenly introduced a controversial new law requiring government licensing for news websites and Sri Lanka announced a draft Media Code of Ethics aimed at creating a “salutary media culture in the country,” to be tabled in September.

Further north, Hong Kong announced a new law making it difficult for the public, including media, to trace company directors’ home addresses and personal identification numbers which was also strongly opposed and in Taiwan public pressure forced the media regulator there to introduced a new media convergence bill earlier than the planned 2014 date amid fears of growing Chinese influence on local media.

In China, there was a call for new rules on Internet espionage and the government announced it will upgrade laws involving the Internet as well as saying it would welcome U.S. network companies investing in the industry. China and the U.S. both supported calls for the countries to co-operate on online security following accusations that China was involved in cyber espionage.

Further south, Timor-Leste announced a draft media communication law that was the subject of intense debate for treating the media “like children,” Papua New Guinea announced a new law expanding rural radio services in a country where radio is still a major source of information and Fiji announced a decree making it an offence for the media to name political parties that have been deregistered, building on a 2010 decree announcing government control of the media.

New Zealand’s Law Commission recommended a single regulatory authority covering broadcast, print and online media with an independent News Media Standards Authority being established. In Australia a package of media bills, including one aimed at creating a self regulation body, were withdrawn by the Labour government, but two other bills were passed, one halving television licence fees and another one increasing local content quotas.

To the east, India’s High Court recommended an independent body be formed to regulate the electronic media and there were calls for more regulation of print and broadcast media and a framework and guidelines for government organisations using social media; Turkmenistan passed its first law on press freedom, including a ban on censorship, forcing the President to withdraw from owning all of the country’s newspapers; Tajikistan also signed a new press law into being that proclaimed mass media freedom and a ban on censorship and persecution for criticism with media outlets being registered as legal entities and public agencies having to answer journalists’ questions within three days.

Not All Keen on New Laws

Not all countries were as keen on passing new laws, whatever their intention. Some continued to block or ban online sites and newspapers. In Kazakhstan, eight newspapers and 23 Internet media sites were banned, online content providers such as Google, Facebook and Twitter were sued and the government is contemplating more draft laws on the mass media; in Uzbekistan a news blackout surrounded the apparent death of the President, leading to speculation inside and outside the country as there were no direct State run media reports and in Kyrgyzstan a popular website was unblocked after more than a year while still facing a censorship order.

In South East Asia this trend continued in Vietnam where the government admitted to employing bloggers as “Internet polemists” to fight “online hostile forces” and jailed five bloggers; Malaysia blocked a number of websites in the run up to the 5 May election, in which social media figured strongly and in Thailand, where the lèse-majesté laws against criticising the monarchy continued to result in threats against bloggers, the government also threatened to shut down sites critical of the Prime Minister, although the threat was later withdrawn.

Violence Against Journalists Continued

Violence against journalists was another trend that continued unabated in some countries, in particular. There was a sharp increase in violence and threats against journalists in Afghanistan in April, with some 30 cases of physical attacks and threats by local officials, policemen and the Taliban recorded in 10 days, while Pakistan saw the deaths of three journalists move it to eighth on the “most dangerous nations for journalists list,” Pakistan being the most dangerous in South Asia.

In Nepal, the freeing of 22 journalists in relation to an old murder case was offset by attacks and threats against journalists with the United Nations also launching a new project, “UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity,” to make the country safer for journalists. The Philippines was ranked by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) third on its Impunity Index for the fourth consecutive year. At the same time the government increased efforts to combat violence against journalists with a task force being formed to investigate human rights abuses and media killings.

In Bangladesh, violence against journalists was based around blasphemy related to Islam. Islamist activists attacked 18 journalists in three cities and a well known blogger was hacked to death in his home. The Government also announced the formation of a committee to identify and prosecute bloggers who allegedly blasphemed in their coverage of a political trial against former political leaders and hundreds of people demanded the government to introduce an anti-blasphemy law to include the death penalty against bloggers who insult Islam.

Indonesia saw two reporters wounded at a clash between rival groups, but also Jakarta’s emergence as the No 1 Twitter city in the world. There was also concern about the working conditions of journalists, with members of the Alliance for Independent Journalists carrying a statue of a chained up pigeon as a protest against alleged intervention by media owners and a poll showing journalists were underpaid and did not have healthcare or work insurance.

Japan and South Korea Drop On Freedom Index

Japan and South Korea, normally high on the Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index, both dropped, Japan dramatically. South Korea dropped six places to 50th and Japan 31 places to 53rd. In Korea there was an international campaign to reinstate two reporters dismissed by two broadcasting companies amid fears of political appointments to media companies and in Japan the lack of access to information related to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and the continued power of the Kisha Clubs, which bar independent journalists from joining, contributed to Japan’s sudden and big drop down the index.

In Mongolia, Bhutan and Brunei there was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of national journalism (Mongolia), advice to Brunei from an online communications specialist for the country to take advantage of its high social media penetration to “create buzz” about its products and services and in the world’s youngest democracy, tiny Bhutan, there was an offer to international journalists to cover its second elections in July.

Conclusion

The Asia-Pacific region is experiencing a wave of new media laws, some government actions are aimed at meeting the demands of the Internet growth in the region while others seek to control and limit the influence amongst the populations. Violence and threats continue to plague many countries, but in some countries steps are being taken to make journalism a safer profession. Bloggers continue to be a threatened species in many countries as governments strive to keep the Internet’s negative influence under some semblance of control. Overall, the region’s journalists can look forward to legislative changes that may - or may not - benefit them in the future but for many countries the jury remains out on such media based legislative activism.

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Torben Stephan, Director Media Programme Asia












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