Statesman News Service
KOLKATA, March 25. — A growing number of Asian newspapers face intimidation. While in some countries the government is the villain, in others the onslaught comes from radical groups. These threats to Press freedom were outlined by editors and publishers from newspapers across Asia at today’s meeting of Asia News Network’s Executive Board, held in Kolkata.
Mr Endy M. Bayuni, chief editor of The Jakarta Post, said laws had been framed to guarantee Press freedom in countries like Indonesia where the Press was muzzled during the Suharto years. But changes in the law, he said, has not meant an end to threats. He claimed radical groups, businessmen and politicians often send goons who threaten even to blow up newspaper offices if they don’t retract articles critical of them. As a way out, The Jakarta Post has now decided not to report any incident in which radical groups are involved, thereby denying them the oxygen of publicity they crave, Mr Bayuni said.
The board decided to appoint Mr Bayuni the next chairman of ANN. He will take over from Zhu Ling, the current chairman and Editor-in-Chief of China Daily.
Noting that the circulation of some member newspapers was consolidating rather than going up significantly, the ANN editors said the market for English language newspapers is still largely untapped. And with more people speaking English, boosting readership is a challenge.
Meanwhile Mr Ah Lek Pook, Executive Editor-in-Chief of Sin Chew Daily told the editors that in Malaysia the government has acted against four newspapers, even suspending one for two weeks for the recent Danish cartoon episode. The need for newspapers to renew their licenses annually is a constant threat to Press freedom in Malaysia, he said.
“Ten Filipino journalists died in the course of duty making the Philippines one of the most dangerous places in the world after Iraq for journalists to work in,” said Mr Isagani Yambot, publisher, Philippine Daily Inquirer. He said two suspects in the murder of the journalists were acquitted.
Under the state of emergency declared by the Arroyo administration, police raided the printing press and office of the Daily Tribune, an Opposition newspaper, Mr Yambot said.
He added the government was taking over any newspaper that did not follow “standards” laid down in the Presidential proclamation of Emergency. “We find it strange that police were setting standards for the media,” Mr Yambot said, adding that several journalists face sedition charges in his country.
“Our young reporters often ask whether they should tone down their stories,” he said. “Our instruction to them is clear. There is no need to tone down stories,” he concluded.
Outlining the political situation in India, Mr Ravindra Kumar, Editor and Managing Director of The Statesman, said the country is governed by a not a very stable coalition and “it is only a matter of time before something happens to create a crack”. “When there is insecurity, it affects the media scene”, he added.
Mr Kumar said sting operations by the audio-visual media had generated a debate on their morality. The debate is born largely in the drawing rooms of politicians affected by them. On the issue of contempt of court, he said it has now been established that truth is a valid defence and one can therefore be critical of the judiciary as long as one is reporting the truth. This, he said, is a significant development.
On advertising, Mr Kumar said some of the advertising which had abandoned the print media had returned after a realisation among marketing professionals of the need for a judicious mix between print and audio-visual media. Overall, the media scene in India is stable without being spectacular, he said, while television has shown growth.
A report on ANN activities was tabled by Mr Pana Janviroj, Executive Director, ANN and president, The Nation. The ANN editors discussed the newly launched Asia News magazine which has already recorded a circulation of 20,000. It is available on the flights of several airlines from Bangkok, in hotels and on new stands in the city.
The editors also discussed designs of the e-paper and the ANN web site. Other topics on the agenda were the exchange of daily news and photographs among member newspapers and editorial staff support from members for ANN’s Bangkok office.
Possible editorial initiatives such as a pan Asia opinion poll, a meeting of European and Asian editors in Germany in September this year and a meeting between ANN editors and Presidents and Prime Ministers attending the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos next year were also discussed by the ANN Editors. The deliberations will continue tomorrow.