Journalists working in many mainstream mass-media outlets in Southeast Asia still face a lot of threats, says Gayathry Venkiteswaran, executive director of the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).
Venkiteswaran, who spoke at a panel jointly organised by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and Unesco this week to mark World Press Freedom Day (which is today), said the Philippines, for example, was the world’s third-most-dangerous place for journalists to operate in when it comes to attacks with impunity.
In Thailand, she said, anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters had marched to some media outlets and harassed journalists, while some other media organisations had been attacked.
Safety aside, media outlets in the region also faced a credibility crisis, with some having become “publications of slander and lies”.
On the other hand, laws had been passed or were in the pipeline in many countries in the region to restrict freedom of expression on the Internet.
Anothai Udomsilp, director of the Thai Public Broadcasting Service’s Academic Institute of Public Media, said media independence – particularly editorial independence – was still important in Thailand. Freedom of expression was also still a contentious issue.
“My colleagues find it difficult when they talk of total freedom of expression,” he said, adding that there were “legislative difficulties” that restricted Thai reporters from exercising full press freedom. But in general, the principle was enshrined in the Constitution.
He also expressed concerns about widespread use of hate speech by citizens and the divisive nature of Thai society today.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, a columnist at The Nation, said Thai journalists were initially ill prepared for the security risks related to political-protest conflict zones over the past few years. But they had since seen a lot of improvement, although the Thai Journalists Association had yet to come up with guidelines to boost safety for journalists.
Kavi also questioned the euphoria surrounding the multiplication of news on digital television.
“We’ll have 30 digital news channels. There’ll be information overload. We have many information outlets but it’s very useless.”