Amid the contagion of media repression, the antidote is collective assertion.
In commemorating World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2020, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres “urged governments to protect journalists and others who work in media, and to uphold press freedom” (“Journalists provide ‘antidote’”, 2020, Retaliation against media section, para. 1). He said that the press provides the antidote which may be described as “verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis” (“Journalists provide ‘antidote’”, 2020, Accurate information, a life and death issue section, para. 3).
Analyzing the media landscape, harassment and intimidation have become the “new normal” for artists, journalists and media workers in the Asian region. Out of 13 countries in the latest global impunity index of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), eight are located in Asia (Getting Away with Murder, 2019). This is consistent with the findings of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that in 2020, “the Asia-Pacific region […] saw the greatest rise in press freedom violations” (“2020 World Press Freedom Index”, 2020, The Index region by region section, para. 2).
Internationally, Freedom House observes that “media freedom has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade, with new forms of repression taking hold in open societies and authoritarian states alike” (Repucci, 2019, para. 2). According to Arao (2015), there are two global events every November to help ensure that people do not forget:
First, Nov. 2, 2013 marked the kidnapping and killing of two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon of Radio France Internationale in Kidal, Mali. This led to the proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly (at its 68th session on Dec. 18, 2013) of Nov. 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. […] Second, Nov. 23, 2009 saw the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers [in the Philippines]. Starting in 2011, the global network IFEX (International Freedom of Expression Exchange) declared Nov. 23 International Day to End Impunity. (End impunity campaign section, paras. 2–3)
The commemoration of specific cases of repression can only do so much. There should be a plan to end what has been described in various studies as the “culture of impunity” (see Arao, 2015; and Viñuales, 2007) that informs society in general and the media in particular.
There are various initiatives of journalists, media groups and news media organizations worldwide to fight against the ongoing repression. Even the UN came up with a plan of action in 2011 which “aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide” (“UN Plan of Action”, n.d., para. 1). The first national plan of action that seeks to implement the UN’s initiative was launched in the Philippines on November 22, 2019, a day before the 10th year of the Ampatuan massacre (“Multi-stakeholder group”, 2019).
The UN’s plan stresses the need for more research on media situations around the world. For the academe, there is clearly a need to explore the theoretical, empirical and normative dimensions of media repression so that the people can understand the magnitude of the problem and identify areas of intervention and assertion. From these areas, an important contribution is for the academe, together with civil society organizations, to push for policy actions in protecting journalists and media workers.
This issue of Media Asia presents the realities of media repression in selected parts of the region. There are four refereed articles and three non-refereed commentaries that provide various dimensions of the issue.
Nyan Lynn (The danger of words: Major challenges facing Myanmar journalists on reporting the Rohingya conflict) and Deborah Simorangkir (Work-related sexual harassment and coping techniques: the case of Indonesian female journalists) analyze the predicament of journalists in covering sensitive issues and protecting themselves from those who exploit them. Meanwhile, Hazrat Bahar (Social media and disinformation in war propaganda: How Afghan government and the Taliban use Twitter) studies how warring parties weaponize social media in spreading “fake news” and discusses why deprivation of relevant information is a form of repression. Mengmeng Zhao (How do leading companies in Greater China communicate CSR through corporate websites? A comparative study of Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) focuses on the use of corporate social responsibility and explains why corporations need to increase awareness and prevent skepticism at the same time.
Beatrice Puente (Muzzling the media: The perils of the critical press in the Philippines) and Sammy Westfall (Growth of a young journalist amid the pandemic and media repression) provide first-person accounts on the struggles of campus journalists as they are faced not just with the global pandemic but also a repressive government. Muhammad Ittefaq, Syed Ali Hussain and Maryam Fatima (COVID-19 and social-politics of medical misinformation on social media in Pakistan) present their views on how social media have been misused amid the global pandemic when accurate information is needed.
As press freedom and other basic freedoms remain in peril, collective assertion of the need for press freedom and fact-based news is, more than ever, our best antidote.