Southeast Asian Press Alliance Formed

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BANGKOK, November 8, 1998 -- Delegates meeting in Bangkok announced the formation of an alliance to support and promote press freedom in the region on Sunday. Twenty-five representatives from five independent journalists' organizations in three countries -- the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia -- launched a campaign on behalf of a free press in Southeast Asia through the establishment of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

The alliance will set up a secretariat in Bangkok next year. The secretariat will monitor attacks on journalists and threats to the press in Southeast Asia. The alliance will also encourage governments in Southeast Asia to reform repressive media laws and relax restrictions on the press.

A steering committee was formed to direct the new alliance. Steering committee members were drawn from the Reporter's Association of Thailand (RAT); the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) of the Philippines; the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI); and the Institute for Studies in the Free Flow of Information (ISAI), which is also based in Indonesia.

The alliance is meant to be inclusive of independent journalistic organizations in the region and was formed in response to the growth of press freedom in the three countries initially involved. Delegates affirmed their commitment to support efforts by journalists in neighboring countries to establish a free press.

"This is a landmark development in the history of the Southeast Asian press," said Kavi Chongkittavorn, a member of the six-member steering committee and the executive editor of the Nation newspaper in Bangkok. "We journalists have to be able to defend ourselves and help our Asian colleagues."

The alliance grew out of a two-day seminar on press freedom in Southeast Asia, hosted by the Reporter's Association of Thailand in conjunction with the World Press Freedom Committee and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"We support your efforts and applaud this endeavor," said James Ottaway, the chairman of the World Press Freedom Committee.

Both CPJ and WPFC pledged to assist the alliance in its development."This is vital work," said A. Lin Neumann, the Asia program coordinator for CPJ.

Delegates attending the meeting said it was the first time that regional press freedom organizations have banded together to promote Southeast Asian concerns.