SEAPA concerned with possibility of biggest print media consolidation in Malaysia

November 30, 2006

alerts-button-1.jpgThe Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is greatly concerned by the news that two media groups in Malaysia may be merging.

Newspaper reports on 28 and 29 November said the New Straits Times Press (NSTP) is planning to acquire Utusan Melayu to forge a strong alliance between its Malay-language newspapers, “Berita Harian” and “Utusan Malaysia”, respectively.

According to local business weekly “The Edge”, a market research house said this would mark the largest print media consolidation in the Malay print industry.

Both the Utusan group and NSTP were reportedly unavailable for comment. When queried by the local stock exchange, they merely said they were exploring options to enhance shareholders’ value, with no firm plans reached as yet.

At this juncture, SEAPA would like to stress that media companies should not be viewed purely as business entities with profitability as their overriding goal. Their social responsibility, unlike that of any other corporate entity, is a greater and especially crucial one of providing the people with a public platform through which the right of free expression is effectively exercised in a democracy.

Thus, most troubling to democracy in this potential merger is the monopolisation of information and political influence. Read the rest of this entry »


Singapore opposition leader and two party members imprisoned for exercising right to free speech

November 28, 2006

phpgow4hr.jpegalerts-button-1.jpgSingapore opposition leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned for five weeks following a 24 November 2006 court verdict which found him and two other party members guilty of breaching the city-state’s restrictions on free speech.

Chee, the secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, refused to pay the alternative sentence meted out to him – a fine of S$5,000 (approx. US$3,225).

Local news site “Today Online” reports that this is the fifth time in seven years that Chee has opted to be imprisoned instead of paying a fine for speaking out. Click here for Chee’s parting shot. Read the rest of this entry »

CMFR calls on all media to join class action civil suit against Philippine president’s husband

November 28, 2006

alerts-button-1.jpgThe following is a 27 November 2006 statement from CMFR, a SEAPA member based in the Philippines:

Libel suits are among the perils journalists must face in this and many other countries, including those where press freedom has long flourished. Most journalists are aware that violations of the libel law have corresponding consequences under the Philippine justice system.

A libel suit is properly decided in the courts. The libel suits filed by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, against 43 reporters, columnists, editors and other journalists, are now sub judice. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), in any case, does not comment on the merits of any libel case until it has been resolved one way or the other.

CMFR does not dispute the right of Mr. Arroyo to file a libel suit against anyone he believes has wronged him through a libelous imputation. But CMFR believes that the sheer number of suits he has filed indicates that the suits are primarily intended to intimidate the press and to silence criticism against himself as well as his wife’s administration. Read the rest of this entry »

SEAPA network supports Philippine press’ class action countersuit against president’s husband

November 27, 2006

alerts-button-1.jpgThe Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) held a network meeting on 21 November 2006 in conjunction with its 8th anniversary, which saw the attendance of some 60 journalists/reporters and members of SEAPA partner and founding organisations. Following the network meeting, SEAPA initiated a joint statement in solidarity and support of the 42 Philippine journalists who are filing a class action suit against Mr. Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, husband of Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for abuse of power and harassment of the Philippine press.

A copy of the statement follows: 

Statement of support for Philippine journalists from free expression groups around Southeast Asia
27 November 2006

We, representatives of journalist, media, and free expression organizations from around Southeast Asia, and collaborating under the network of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), applaud the initiative of our colleagues in the Philippines to defend their rights in the face of blatant abuse and harassment from the husband of Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. We strongly support the filing of a class civil suit against Mr. Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo for his abuse of power and his clear attempt to undermine press freedom in an important member of the Southeast Asian community. The Philippines is in the clear minority of countries in Southeast Asia with a functioning—if perennially vulnerable—free press. In this light, the deterioration of the conditions for press freedom under the regime of President Arroyo is a troubling trend that causes anxiety in the rest of the region.We note with alarm that over the past months, Mr. Arroyo has sued 43 reporters, columnists, editors and publishers of various publications for libel. Many of the journalists he sued had linked Mr. Arroyo to unexplained wealth, vote-buying for his wife’s 2004 electoral win, and money laundering.

Although all these issues comprise serious public interest matters that merit scrutiny by the people through the press, the President’s husband is seeking damages totaling P141 million (about US$2.8 million), thereby sending a chilling message to journalists and the Philippine media in general. Backdropped by the alarming rate of murder of journalists in the Philippines, particularly under the Arroyo administration, the antics of the President’s husband underscore the overall decline of official respect for press freedom in the country.

It is in this light that we encourage our Philippine colleagues in their efforts and initiative to fight back against this clear attempt to harass their ranks. If the presidential spouse intends to send a message that journalists who dare to cross him will face a libel suit, then the victims – both the press and the people – must push back with a stronger message that contempt of press freedom is contempt of the people.

Retaliating against the charges filed against them, the journalists are in turn suing Mr. Arroyo for abuse of power and for seeking to undermine civil liberties, and they are therefore seeking P87 million (nearly US$1.75 million) in damages, in a symbolic campaign to charge Mr. Arroyo one peso for each of the 87 million Filipinos he wants to deprive of free expression.

The countersuit against Mr. Arroyo—signed by 42 of journalists he had sued yet evidently failed to intimidate—is inspiring, groundbreaking, and potentially standard-setting not just for the Philippine media, but for free expression in the whole of Southeast Asia, if not the world.

As one of those rare havens for democracy in the region, and as party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, the Philippines is challenged to set a higher standard with respect to human rights, of which freedom of expression is paramount. Beyond the court case against Mr. Arroyo, we also urge Philippine legislators to decriminalize libel, a move that has found support from more than 600 journalists and 30 local and foreign media organizations.

The Signatories

Signed by:
Southeast Asian Press Alliance

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippines
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia
Institute for the Study on Free Flow of Information, Indonesia
Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
Malaysiakini Mizzima News, Burma
Timor Leste Journalists Association
Aliran, Malaysia
Alliance for Freedom of Expression, Cambodia

* The Southeast Asian Press Alliance is comprised of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (Philippines), Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (Indonesia), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Thai Journalists Association.

Cambodian police in no mood to see free speech take flight

November 27, 2006


Cambodian police on the morning of November 27 disrupted a peaceful activity intended to promote free expression in Phnom Penh, confiscating symbolic “press freedom” kites intended to be flown in a field in front of the National Assembly. Pictures courtesy of the Alliance for Free Expression in Cambodia (AFEC), which organized the event.

Filipino journalists ready suit vs President’s husband for abuse of power and undermining press freedom

November 22, 2006

Enemy of Press Freedomalerts-button-1.jpgForty-two journalists charged in a rash of libel cases filed by the husband of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have signed on to a civil class suit against “First Gentleman” Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, alleging abuse of power and violation of press freedom. GMANews reports that the journalists are poised to seek damages of P87 million (nearly US$1.75 million), “a symbolic amount of one peso for every Filipino.”
“The Filipino public is represented here because it is the public which suffers most when there is no press freedom,” lawyer Harry Roque, the journalists’ legal counsel, told a forum at the University of the Philippines. In recent months, Mr. Arroyo has filed libel cases against 43 reporters, columnists, editors and publishers of various publications. SEAPA and one of its founding members in the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, are supporting the action to defend press freedom in the Philippines. Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-cybercrime law may fetter free expression on Internet, says SEAPA

November 17, 2006

alerts-button-1.jpgSoutheast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is alarmed that Thailand’s interim, military-installed government plans to push through a draft legislation on computer-related crimes which contain provisions that may curtail freedom of expression on the Internet. Read the rest of this entry »