Today, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) launch Holding the Line: South East Asia Media Freedom Report 2019 which details the issues and challenges that imperil press freedom in the region.
The report is being launched on the eve of November 23 as we mark the 10th anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre. On November 23, 2009, 58 people, including 32 journalists, were shot and killed in Maguindanao, the province on the southern island of Mindanao.
As the title suggests, South East Asia’s media is determinedly Holding the Line against forces both overt and unseen, both online and offline that are trying in various ways to silence them.
The IFJ and SEAJU found that: “Far too many journalists in the region were threatened with legal action, stymied in the course of their work as a result and hauled through lengthy court battles on spurious charges. While some were free to continue their work awaiting trial, others had their movements severely controlled and others were simply locked up without recourse”.
Holding the Line also looks at the journalist violations and the major threats against media that punctuated the year: from internet shutdowns and online controls in Papua; to wide-scale protests in Indonesia where journalists were too often targeted by both the police and the public; through to the mass layoffs that impacted so much of Malaysia and Thailand’s media industry with the closure of major media houses including Utusan Malaysia and the end of print production of The Nation newspaper in Thailand.
The report is supported by a survey of nearly 1,270 journalists, which reveals that 61% of respondents felt unsafe due their work as journalists. The study found targeted attacks for reporting is the single biggest threat to the safety of journalists. The single biggest threat in 2018 was working conditions.
In the Philippines, two journalists were shot dead in 2019. Further, in Indonesia, 20 journalists were attacked by both protestors and police while covering the protests near the Elections Supervisory Agency on May 21 and 22.
Other safety issues for journalists in South East Asia include threats to journalists or others close to them, and random physical attacks. Poor wages and working conditions, remains a threat, moving from the top threat to journalists, to being in the top four safety concerns. In several countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, thousands of media workers have been fighting for their labour rights in the wake of mass lay-offs. In Malaysia, 800 former employees of Utusan, the oldest Malay language newspaper, protested for months of outstanding salaries.
The majority of survey respondents noted the media situation in their country has seen no significant change in the past year. The reasons for this response are media ownership and government policy or legislation.
The IFJ and SEAJU country ranking system for both impunity and justice scores countries, out of 10, with 10 being the worst score. The whole region scored 7.2 for impunity and 7 for the justice system in dealing with violence against journalists. Political leadership and the government were the two main factors hindering attempts at justice for the victims of the attacks.
The report demonstrates that many challenges still lie ahead. The IFJ-SEAJU study is a tool for analysing advocacy to allow unions to strength their solidarity and call for justice.
The IFJ appeals to the authorities in South East Asia to take note of the report and increase protections for journalists.
IFJ Asia-Pacific director, Jane Worthington said: “The rise on attacks on journalists in the region, including online violence, shows that the situation in the region is still extremely challenging for journalists to work. We have seen journalists being attacked, doxed, arrested or sued with defamation simply because they are doing their jobs to serve public interests. We hope this report will provide an advocacy point for journalists and their unions to fight to change this situation for stronger media and democracy.”