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The Media Freedom
in Southeast Asia Project

“…if a media organisation doesn’t fight for freedom of expression, how on earth is it supposed to operate? … a fish needs water to breathe, media organisations need freedom of expression to operate.”

The Media Freedom in Southeast Asia Project seeks to understand the challenges that media workers in Southeast Asia face and how they navigate them. While mass surveys and large-scale indices have examined the overarching trends in press freedom, they often gloss over the fact that experiences among media workers may vary across race, gender, race and specific geographic locations even among those within the same country, or that there are commonalities which transcend borders. These studies also seldom consider how media workers who work at non-state-owned media outlets or freelance in Southeast Asia may face harsher challenges than their counterparts in mainstream or state-owned media. This project aims to interrogate these variations and privilege the voices of media workers in the region in its methods. We employ a variety of methods, from focus group discussions, personal interviews, to exploratory surveys. Through this, we seek to expand our understanding of media freedom in Southeast Asia and transform our research findings into inclusive, operationalisable programmes to support the fight for a freer, democratic Southeast Asia.


The Media Freedom in Southeast Asia Series

[Freedom of the media is] the freedom for every journalist to report on all issues without having to concern or fear …  about punishment … legal punishment or harassment or being threatened or intimidated by the government or by the powerful people in the business.”

The Media Freedom in Southeast Asia Series houses our publications for the Media Freedom in Southeast Asia Research Project. As we strive to make our research engaging and accessible to everyone, our publications shall take various formats including in-depth research reports, illustrations, comics and workshops. 

In our first research report, titled Envisioning Media Freedom and Independence: Narratives from Southeast Asia, we discuss the unique experiences faced by independent media workers, defined as those working in non-state-owned or state-affiliated media, in navigating the Southeast Asian media space. Given the tendency of hostile governments to target those who voice dissent or challenge their power and legitimacy, we believe that independent media workers face harsher challenges than their counterparts in mainstream or state-owned media. We spoke with 44 independent media workers across eight countries, asking them the question, “What does media freedom mean and look like to you?” Our conversations brought a variety of issues to light, including the various forms of attacks against our research participants, financial precarity, and lack of access to information. We also illuminate the various and creative ways in which our research participants have resisted these challenges. 

In our second research report, titled Beyond the Absence of Killings and Arrests: Exploring “Media Safety” in Southeast Asia, we used a qualitative survey to explore the various kinds of threats facing media workers in the region. Just looking at hard statistics on the number of killings, kidnappings and arrests provides an insufficient picture of independent media. Instead, we hope to illuminate the wide spectrum of challenges that different media workers have to grapple with — like the difficulties in finding sources to talk to, censorship and control within newsrooms themselves and other forms of indirect pressure such as harassment and intimidation from the government and members of the public. Another key finding that also emerged from our study is the need for more intersectional and gendered understandings of safety so that we may start working towards building an independent media scene in Southeast Asia that is free and safe for everyone.


Envisioning Media Freedom and Independence

Narratives from Southeast Asia

TH | KH | ID

Beyond the Absence of Killings and Arrests

Exploring “Media Safety” in the Context of Southeast Asia


Our other outputs

Media Work as Resistance

A graphic summary of New Naratif’s study of media freedom in Southeast Asia, drawn from media workers’ experiences and challenges.