A call to action to defend press freedom

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    WE CEDE our space to the statement of the South East Asian Journalists Union in observance of World Press Freedom Day.

    THE INTERNATIONAL Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU) mark World Press Freedom Day in calling for action to defend press freedom.

    In Jakarta as part of the UNESCO WPFD events, SEAJU has taken a strong stand for action in defence of journalists across the region and globally.

    On May 1, the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen and the IFJ hosted a SEAJU meeting in Jakarta to discuss the state of press freedom, journalist safety, working conditions and future of the media in South East Asia.

    Today – May 3 — World Press Freedom Day 2017, we the Southeast Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU), declare:

    1. Threats to freedom of the press and expression in Southeast Asia are getting worse.

    2. The increasing pattern of discrediting media and individual journalists by governments and interest groups seeks to suppress free expression.

    3. Across the region, journalists are coming under increasing attacks – physical or otherwise – threats and harassment, yet the majority of cases of journalist murders remain unsolved.

    4. Restrictive laws and legal frameworks continue impede press freedom with the aim of regulating the media and free speech.

    5. Harsh working conditions, substandard wages and the non-recognition of media workers’ rights and welfare, including undue pressure from media owners and managements, factors that not only contribute to the lack of safety but can erode professionalism and ethics.

    In the face of these worsening conditions for journalists in Southeast Asia, we, SEAJU, have organized to stand together in defending the freedom of the press and expression in our region. Working towards improving our welfare and safety as media workers, and demand that our governments fulfill their duty to protect and promote human, civil and political rights of their peoples.

    Impunity, threats and harassment:

    Across Southeast Asia, a culture of impunity continues to overshadow the media community, both for attacks, harassment and killings of media workers.

    In Cambodia, since 1993 13 media workers have been killed, yet only two of these murders have been solved. On Tuesday, a Cambodia court issued an arrest warrant for a senior journalist working for Radio Free Asia who is accused of falsely stating his occupation during a prison visit last month.

    In Indonesia, there remain eight journalist killings that remain unresolved, while journalists across Indonesia, and particularly in Papua, face threats, harassment and attacks on a regular basis.

    The Philippines faces a growing challenge against impunity, with over 170 journalists murdered since 1986 and only a mere 10 cases resolved. Yet the Ampatuan Massacre, which saw 32 journalists among 58 people slain in November 2009, is the darkest shadow on the media, with not a single person prosecuted some seven years on.

    In Thailand, the murders of two foreign journalists during the 2010 demonstrations are yet to be solved.

    In Myanmar, journalists are facing threats from local religious extremists, political supporters and also government officials.

    In Timor Leste, two journalists are facing trial in a criminal defamation case brought by the country’s prime minister. They are charged with “slanderous denunciation” and face up to three years in prison if found guilty.

    Laws, legal frameworks and defamation:

    Defamation is fast becoming the tool of choice for governments across Southeast Asia.

    In Timor Leste, two journalists are facing charges of slanderous denunciation, led by Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo over a report published in November 2015. If found guilty, they face three years in jail.

    In Cambodia, defamation and the pending cybercrime and freedom of information legislation has created a sense of fear within the media community. Although not necessarily reflected in any law, authorities sometimes ban reporters from entering particular areas of the country to report on public issues. In Indonesia, criminal libel and the new cybercrime law have weakened the media’s ability to report, while in the Philippines the lack of a freedom of information law is still felt.

    Thailand’s impending Media Reform Bill has received international criticism as an attempt by the military junta to control the media and weaken press freedom.

    In Myanmar, access to information remains difficult particularly for government departments and the military, although there have been recent changes to improve access to information practices.

    Journalist welfare, worker’s rights and organizing:

    In Thailand, large numbers of journalists have been fired in unfair conditions, which has raised concerns about workers’ rights and the welfare of media workers in the turbulent environment.

    In the Philippines, large numbers of journalists have been let go from three of the biggest TV networks, with union members targeted.

    In Timor Leste, the low wages for media workers is seeing high numbers leave the profession for better paying positions, which is ultimately weakening the media community. Many apply for government jobs which offer better salary scales and working conditions.

    In Myanmar, media outlets continue to struggle with the changing media consumption patterns which is impacting on the bottom line.

    In Cambodia, journalists are not paid well and lack social welfare benefits even as they work in the context of a politically turbulent environment.

    SEAJU said: “We call on the people of Southeast Asia to join us in this cause. For freedom of the press is not ours but yours. We merely exercise it in the service of your right to know.”

    The IFJ said: “We stand with SEAJU and the journalists of Southeast Asia in demanding all governments secure press freedom and ensure the safety of media workers in this fight. Today, the world celebrates the work of journalists and takes a stand for press freedom, yet the action must continue everyday as we work to improve the situation across the world and in Southeast Asia.”

    (World Press Freedom Day 2017 statement of the South East Asian Journalist Unions comprising Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, Cambodia Association for Protection of Journalists, National Union of Journalists- Peninsular Malaysia, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, National Union of Journalists-Thailand, Myanmar Journalists Association, Timor Leste Journalists Association, and Timor Leste Press Union)

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