Media in Southeast Asia – alternative voice or manipulated instrument?

Updated On: May 05, 2006

The World Press Freedom Day last Wed (3 May) has brought out new developments on the state of media in Southeast Asia including a proposed Islamic journalism centre in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s information minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin had mooted the idea of an international Islamic journalism centre to help strengthen media in Muslim countries and improve international perceptions of Islam. He expressed the idea at the opening workshop for 23 journalists from 15 Arabic-speaking nations in Kuala Lumpur last Tue (2 May), organized by Bernama newspaper and UNESCO.

“There is no denying that there is an agenda to belittle Islam and the Muslim among certain quarters in the West, using the media. Various tactics, including deception, are used against Muslims to work up their emotions because these people know Muslim would response in full agitation when their religion is attacked,” he said.

Mr Zainuddin spoke about the benefits of the centre particularly to overcome “Islamophobia” through the invitation of non-Muslims journalists to participate in its activities and to understand what Islam is all about. “This centre can be set up along lines of several existing international journalism institutes, offering training and fellowship programmes. When journalists gather in one place, they will have an opportunity to know their colleagues from other countries more deeply and this will instill deeper understanding among the ummah,” he added.

Mr Zainuddin had latter expressed Malaysia’s interest to host the centre, citing Malaysia as a good model as a peaceful and progressive Islamic country which is multi-racial. “If the centre is established here, we hope to show the world the example of a developed Islamic nation, Muslims who are ‘Hadhari’ and able to live with people of other faiths.

Another group of journalists gathered in JakartaIndonesia for a workshop to push for peace through war reporting. Their role was seen as extremely critical in areas such as Poso, Aceh, Ambon and Pupua where conflicts coverage could create more problems, especially when it was produced by people who lacked comprehensive knowledge of the situation or who merely seek sensationalism. It was agreed that “Upholding journalism’s ethics” was the most important point to note in strengthening their practices and increasing the role of journalists in the conflict resolution process.

The United Nations-led World Press Freedom day has seen another development in the Philippines as well. The role of the press and the emphasis of press freedom were most salient in the aftermath of the state of national emergency and the killing of several journalists in their line of work in the past years.

The New York-based Freedom House, an NGO working for democracy and freedom around the world has reported that the Philippines was only “partly free”, with press freedom declining because of the continued “high level” of physical violence against journalists.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders have also commented that “Despite throwing more resources into the battle against the violence, the government is struggling to rebuild confidence. President Gloria Arroyo, weakened by a series of scandals, tried to stop the press from doing its job of safeguarding democracy…Grappling with communist and Islamic guerillas, the government, under pressure from the army, included a ban on press interviews with ‘terrorist groups’ in its controversial anti-terror legislation.”

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye however insisted that the country’s press remained among the freest in the world. According to Mr Gonzalez, there was a “thin line” between “freedom of the press and the press being used to propagate the cause of rebellion,” said Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.

Islamic media hub proposed (Bernama, 3 May 2006)
Arab journalist sure centre can change Western perception (Bernama, 2 May 2006)
Zam calls for Islamic Journalism Centre (Bernama, 2 May 2006)
: Conflict journalists push for peace through war reporting (Jakarta Post, 1 May 2006)
Media group says Arroyo doesn’t understand press role (INQ7 Net, 3 May 2006)
RP media pay ‘high price for outspokenness’ (INQ7 Net, 4 May 2006)
A free press is a constitutional right (Manila Times, 4 May 2006)