Southeast Asian Press Group to Monitor Abuses

Thai Newspaper Editor is First Chairman of Regional Free Press Alliance

Thai Newspaper Editor is First Chairman of Regional Free Press Alliance A senior Thai newspaper editor was named the first chairman of the newly formed Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) on May 22, as the group announced plans to begin monitoring conditions for working journalists in the region from an office in Bangkok. 

The alliance said it would develop an information network among the 10 countries of southeast Asia to research attacks on journalists and combat abuses against the press. “It is time for Asian journalists to work together to build press freedom,” said the group’s new chairman, Kavi Chongkittavorn, the executive editor of the Nation newspaper, an English-language daily in Bangkok. “It is up to us to defend ourselves from attacks and threat.” 
Meeting for the first time since its formation at a conference in Bangkok last November, SEAPA’s board of directors said that in addition to an information network, the group would undertake research on press laws, access to information, and journalism ethics with an eye toward expanding the horizons of press freedom in the region. 

Comprised of independent press advocacy groups from the three “free press” countries of southeast Asia-the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia-SEAPA intends to broaden its membership as greater openness takes hold in the region. “In the meantime, we will defend the gains the press has made, especially in Indonesia,” said Kavi, “but our experience has been that it is never easy to maintain freedom.” 

In its discussions, the group emphasized the fragile nature of press freedom in Indonesia, which blossomed virtually overnight with the resignation of President Suharto last May. “But there are still no legal guarantees, and we have to be vigilant,” said board member Lukas Luwarso, the chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, an Indonesian press association. “We cannot have a democracy without a free press.” 

The board meeting in Bangkok was attended by Marilyn Greene, the executive director of the World Press Freedom Committee.

SEAPA was formed last year in response to calls for greater openness and transparency in the wake of the regional economic crisis as critics assailed government policies that hid the scope of corruption and economic mismanagement from the press and public. The members of SEAPA also announced plans to form a board of advisers composed of senior journalists in the region and to work cooperatively with other organizations with similar goals. A. Lin Neumann, the former Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists who now serves as CPJ’s Asia regional consultant, will work as an adviser to SEAPA based in Bangkok. 

The members of the alliance are the Reporter’s Association of Thailand; the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia); the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (Indonesia); the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (Philippines); and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

“Together, this alliance represents many of the most independent journalists in our region,” said Kavi. “Our job will be to make their numbers grow.”