The View From Asia

Journalism and perils it faces

Asia News Network writers draw attention to their profession's plight. Here are excerpts:

Troubling times

Johan Jaaffar

The Star, Malaysia

Mr Jamal Khashoggi need not have died.

So too the other journalists who have perished this year.

Last week, the Time Warner Centre in New York had to be evacuated after the CNN office there received a package containing explosive material.

The United States, always priding itself as a beacon of democracy and the free press, is now under scrutiny.

President Donald Trump has called "the fake news media" the enemy of the people. No US president has persistently labelled the media as such.

His war of attrition against journalists is unprecedented in the history of modern US.

Mr Trump's rhetoric is dangerous as it incites more than just distrust and hatred towards the media. Some may have brought the animosity to the next level.

As with the case of the pipe bomb sent to CNN's New York office, it can be potentially deadly.

US politics today is unbelievably divisive.

Protesters holding placards outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Paris last week demanding justice for Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after the Saudi Arabian national was murdered last month in his country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey
Protesters holding placards outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Paris last week demanding justice for Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after the Saudi Arabian national was murdered last month in his country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With less than a week to go before the midterm elections, Mr Trump will not ease up on his attacks on the press and his political opponents - the Democrats.

The fact that Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian who was living in the US, was murdered in his own country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, is shocking, to say the least.

Whoever is behind his death certainly failed to understand the repercussions of the crime. The killing is heinous and barbaric. The Saudi government must do all it can to find the culprits responsible.

Journalists die doing their jobs. Many have died in conflict areas. They understand how vulnerable they are.Many have died in suicide bombing cases or have been killed by warring parties. But many journalists soldier on regardless.

Journalism is a risky business.

The late Mr Said Zahari, former editor of Utusan Melayu in the 1960s, who was incarcerated for 17 years under the Internal Security Act, never regretted choosing the vocation. His only regret was that politicians used the state apparatus to silence him and his colleagues.

He was 35 when arrested and 52 when released. He never wavered from the belief that journalistic independence is paramount in any democracy. Journalists have been known to be jailed at the slightest excuse. Some have lost their jobs. Many are harassed and threatened. There are many brave souls among them who dare to speak up while others suffer in silence.

However, there are times when the press is looked upon as merely an extension of the state's propaganda office. Some have simply become part of the system.

Free press is a utopia, some would argue. There is no such thing as a free media, according to others.

Undeniably, the Malaysian experience is one with a chequered past. For some years, the mainstream media was pandering to the tango of the ruling elites.

I have argued in a piece in The Star that the media is complicit in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal. It ignored the red flags and chose not to question the official line.

The media practitioners woke up after the general election on May 9, realising something new was happening. Perhaps it is a dawn of a new era in media.


Price of exposing truth

Eresh Omar Jamal

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Data shows that this year has been one of the deadliest for journalists out of the last five years, if not longer. And those who have attacked journalists have done so with an impunity that remains unmatched in recent history.

According to the International Press Institute, as many as 100 journalists have been killed worldwide since September last year. Some of these murders were quite sensational and thus gathered large-scale media and public attention, while others, unfortunately, failed to garner as much coverage. But apart from the murder of journalists, there have been many other forms of violence against them throughout the world in the last one year.

In its report, Global Impunity Index 2018: Getting Away With Murder, the Committee to Protect Journalists highlighted 14 countries where impunity for crimes against journalists has become "entrenched".

While most of these countries have been mired in one form of conflict or another, such as Somalia, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Afghanistan, what is shocking is that Bangladesh too has managed to get on that list.

Journalists die doing their jobs. Many have died in conflict areas. They understand how vulnerable they are. Many have died in suicide bombing cases or have been killed by warring parties. But many journalists soldier on regardless. Journalism is a risky business.

And not only Bangladesh, but India and Pakistan too are on the list, which perhaps shows the real state of protection afforded to journalists by governments in South Asia in general.

However, the fact that Bangladesh is on the list, despite not being a country currently going through a war or a major conflict, wouldn't come as a great surprise to those who had witnessed the events that unfolded during the recent student movement for safe roads.

During that time, according to Reporters Without Borders, as many as 30 journalists "were the targets of deliberate violence" for covering the "wave of student protests in Dhaka".

Since then, despite widespread protests by journalists and activists, the government has failed to take any meaningful steps to hold those responsible for the attacks to account.

Yet, one could look at this grim picture in our own country as being, to some extent, the mirror image of what is currently happening worldwide, where an increasing number of governments and intelligence agencies, even in countries considered to be the freest in the world, see investigative journalists as the greatest threat to national security above all others, including terrorists.


A dangerous time

John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines

In New York, tracking the terrible arc of online abuse becoming offline violence, I am reminded again and again that the hostility in the air is familiar.

In the Philippines, under a foul-mouthed, force-worshipping president, the same potential for a tragic escalation also exists.

In May this year, in a keynote speech at the Philippine Journalism Research Conference, I spoke about one aspect of the danger, focusing on "hyped-up hostility" against journalists.

Allow me to share excerpts:

What does it mean to be a journalist, or to do journalism research, in the Duterte era?

It means fighting back against "fake news" and other forms of disinformation. It means doing journalism at a time of hyped-up hostility against journalists. And it means countering the brazen lies about journalism, press freedom and free speech that President Rodrigo Duterte and his subordinates propagate.

These lies become myths, and are used to justify all manner of suppression of dissent and criticism. We must, all of us, each of us, debunk them.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2018, with the headline 'Journalism and perils it faces'. Print Edition | Subscribe