Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism

Press freedom stumbles in Southeast Asia

Only one out of 20 people living in Asia have access to a free media, according to the Freedom House report on world press freedom for 2012.

The report addresses the dizzying range of Asia’s media landscape: the North Korean censorship apparatus contrasts against the burgeoning Burmese press corps, while Japanese journalists and Chinese bloggers have begun to appear more similar.

But the Southeast region of Asia presents a more constant picture — and it’s all pretty bleak. Freedom House demoted Thailand’s ranking from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” for the country’s hypersensitivity to criticism of the royal family.

The report noted the Thai government has a penchant for jailing journalists whom it deems “offensive.”

Freedom House also singled out Cambodia for its election-year crackdown on the press.

Cambodia’s sins against freedom of the press include “an increase in the number of journalists behind bars…and a significant rise in threats and physical violence against the press, including the first murder of a reporter since 2008,” according to the report.

The Freedom House report specifically mentioned the case of Cambodian radio journalist Mam Sonando, whom the government sentenced to 20 years in prison before a court released him in March.

But in a broader sense, the Freedom House assessment confirms that the forces stifling press freedom in Southeast Asia are the same as they’ve been for years: strongman governments and state-controlled media.

Although repressive governments such as Laos and Vietnam have not developed the infrastructure to censor new media as effectively as China, their populations have likewise not developed the infrastructure for broad access to the internet. Moreover, the age-old tactics that have silenced traditional journalism in the past — intimidation, violence, incarceration — continue to work just fine.

By Adam Aton. 

Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism.
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