Not a numbers game: nuance needed to measure press freedom in Southeast Asia | News | Eco-Enterprise
“By writing, they are trying to uplift their communities and shine a light on stories of injustice,” said Sahnaz Melasandy, Network and Report Coordinator. co-author.
More than numbers
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recorded this at least 76 journalists have been imprisoned in 2021 and one has been killed in Southeast Asia. The majority of countries in the region are poorly rated in its World Press Freedom Index with Brunei, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam ranking among the bottom 30 countries in the world. The France-based non-governmental organization found that Asia has some of the highest rates of abuse against journalists covering the environment.
But most global indices and reports on media freedom only show a snapshot of what’s happening in the region and don’t account for nuances within and between countries, the researchers said. “It’s important to listen to what the people on the ground have to say, in addition to academics and leaders of Western institutions,” said Fadhilah F. Primandari, democracy researcher and co-author of the report.
For example, RSF has a secretariat and a council composed mainly of European members. His freedom index is determined through an online questionnaire of 87 questions, which is sent to media professionals, lawyers and sociologists selected by the organization. Scores are then compiled based on these responses combined with data on abuse and violence against journalists – compiled by the researchers and their networks of correspondents in 130 countries – during the period assessed.
Instead, New Naratif researchers conducted a qualitative analysis of 44 independent media workers, those who do not work in state-owned or state-affiliated media, from eight different countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.
The susceptibility of subjects varies by geographic area, the research found. Media workers could face health problemsal and police brutality due to the production of stories that criticize governments, prominent politicians and the military. Other more “passive” but corrosive methods include regulatory harassment, restrictions and legal action by governments and members of the public. Anti-media propaganda and digital attacks have also been deployed to muzzle press freedom.
Increased digitization has opened a new avenue for attacks on media workers allowing the public to engage directly with publishers and writers. Internet trolls distort online discourse with reactionary and negative comments. Doxxing (finding and publishing private or identifying information about media workers) and hacking are other forms of Internet attacks that put their security at risk.
To ensure stories are reported fairly, independent media workers should be able to safely access key sources of information and data, Primandari said. “It goes beyond finding information online, but also the ability to interview and question officials.”
“Sometimes government agencies can be more skeptical of independent media, so they don’t justify their access. It is therefore difficult for independent media to hold governments accountable,” she added.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. In Malaysia, for example, press conferences were moved online and only state media were invited to participate, according to the report.
Beyond government sources, independent journalists in the region also have difficulty approaching the general public for information due to a culture of fear and intimidation. “If the general public is afraid to speak out, journalists are unable to uncover in-depth stories or write critically about what is happening in society at large,” Primandari said.
Identifying issues that impede media freedom in the region would help ensure that local issues are not only reported by international news outlets. “We are slowly starting to see a pivot towards people in Southeast Asia taking charge of their own stories by creating these spaces in the region themselves. Local communities write their own stories and reclaim agency over their narratives, even though many factors work against them,” she said.
The intersection between identities and media freedom
Current measures do not take into account identity markers that can affect a journalist’s ability to do their job. Nationality, age, gender and sexuality, class, geographic location, race, as well as professional status play a role in the freedom with which media professionals can operate in the region.
“Independent media workers tend to come from often marginalized backgrounds, so ensuring the security of their freedom and rights is one of the most important things we need to do,” Hassan said.
Rural media workers are more likely to be victims of killings and beatings than their urban counterparts, with many cases going unreported, the researchers found.
Female media workers face more difficulties as they may face sexual harassment and gender-based intimidation from colleagues and in the field when reporting. This, again, is a factor that varies from country to country in Southeast Asia.
The art of content creation and concealment
To stay safe, media workers have devised ways to adapt and adjust their media content.
– Modify the tone and framing of the topics covered, for example by using more conservative titles;
– Thorough editing and cross-checking of their work to guard against accusations of defamation;
– Use creative visual metaphors;
– Reporting in English rather than local languages;
– Avoid certain subjects.
Future research and studies should be aware of how identities shape the experiences of media workers and how certain groups are systematically silenced, marginalized and not given as much access to participate in such research projects. , the researchers pointed out.
The creation of a space of regional solidarity was important to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and support between media workers in a climate that is hostile to them.
“Many of our governments are very unoriginal in their tactics to oppress media workers, so there is potential here to stand together and learn from each other,” Melasandy said.
“It will show the government and the rest of the world that independent media in Southeast Asia is a force to be reckoned with and cannot be crushed by individual governments,” echoed Hassan.