Southeast Asia is not homogeneous in terms of socio-political system as well as the press system. There exist various forms of democracy, from Western American model, liberal, multi-party to one-party authoritarian models with varying degrees of political stability. Add to that a newly independent aspiring democracy, an absolute monarchy, Communist dictatorships and a military regime. The press in the region faces unique challenges, ranging from blatant state control, sophisticated state interference in the guise of social responsibility, stringent legal and extralegal regulations, economic constraints and influence of political and business interests to lack of journalism training and awareness on the democratic function of the press. These ground realities affect the issue of media accountability and self-regulation in the region.
This website is the culmination of a prolonged research project that ponders on the institutional and democratic reforms that are necessary in the region to make the media accountable to public. This is a one-stop resource for detailed know-how of the legal regulations related to media and the code of ethics of press councils, journalist associations and individual media organisations of the region. The effectiveness of the press councils has also been assessed through this research. The available information offers an understanding of the state of press freedom in Southeast Asia, which is essential to comprehend the issues of accountability and self-regulation.
Many of the more restrictive countries including Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam (the first and the last are Communist regimes) face varying degrees of state encroachment in the arena of press freedom through stringent legal regulation, whereas in others like Brunei and Burma, an absolute monarchy and a military regime respectively, the restrictions on freedom of expression are arbitrary (due to the absence of a recognised democracy). The role of the press too is perceived very differently from that of a liberal democratic model: The press is considered an aide of the government in the process of social development (generally, in the Asian context, the press has historically facilitated the process of nation-building in the post-independence era).
Thus the notion of accountability – which carries with it the acknowledgement that the press needs be accountable to the public (rather than the state) – is problematic in authoritarian political cultures, Communist or military regimes or an absolute monarchy. A tripartite press council (consisting of publishers, journalists and public), code of ethics, or a press ombudsperson (often referred to as a readers’ editor) – the most common of the media accountability systems (MAS) – do not exist in countries like Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Burma. The press council in Vietnam is a state-operated system; therefore its role in ensuring the accountability of the media can be doubted. Some countries like Indonesia and Malaysia offer statutory provision for a press council. In the latter, the government’s initiative to set up a press council has been viewed with distrust and suspicion and refuted by civil society groups. Many of the countries like Cambodia and Indonesia even have legal regulation on the role and responsibility of the press. Various other models of press council also exist in other countries like Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia (recently introduced).
While some countries of the region witness state repression of the media, it has been observed that liberal political cultures often face the issue of irresponsible and sometimes politically partisan press system. Despite the presence of voluntary code of ethics, they are often not implemented adequately by the mainstream media. Instances are common where the latter have withdrawn membership from the press council to evade code of ethics. Thus the necessity for individual journalists and media organisations to appreciate self-regulation becomes essential. The study has identified and suggested recommendations to overcome these challenges.Back to top