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The Media Freedom Insights

“[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.”

In conducting research, it is impossible to avoid questions of positionality. Even with small numbers of participants, they can still tell their own stories. By conducting research as activism to engage, educate, and empower, we aim to answer a simple question: “What does media freedom mean to you, and what immediate steps can we take to achieve it?” Their answers informed the report-writing process, and suggested the importance of creating a media freedom network. While our insights may consider the broad scope of media work, from art to newsmaking, we believe that these findings remain applicable to independent media workers supported by the network.

In our first research report, we discuss the unique experiences faced by independent media workers – those not working in state-owned or affiliated media – in navigating the Southeast Asian media space. Independent media struggle more than their counterparts in mainstream or state-owned media, including how they are targeted by hostile governments. Our conversations with independent media workers about media freedom reveal how various forms of attacks, financial precarity, and a lack of access to information exist – but equally importantly, they also demonstrate resistance. The second uses an exploratory quantitative survey to explore the various threats facing regional media workers. Hard statistics of injustices alone do not sufficiently emphasise existing structural problems, including but not limited to repression within newsrooms and indirect pressure such as harassment and intimidation from the government and the public. There is an urgency for more intersectional and gendered understandings of safety in building a safe and independent regional media scene.

The third takes a different path by outlining pathways towards change,  given that threats against independent media workers also undermine democracy. Our suggestions are not representative of all Southeast Asian media workers, but we emphasise the importance of sustainability and alternative funding models, a cognisance of gendered and marginalised experiences, as well as safety and security – these are starting points for collective action. More overt incidents and statistics of media repression tend to overshadow how threats to media workers unfold in everyday lived experiences, from  job security to gendered discrimination. Therefore, ensuring media freedom and freedom of expression requires an intersectional approach, interwoven with the broader ethos of our media freedom project.

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Why building solidarity is important

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.

Series 01:

Envisioning Media Freedom and Independence

Narratives from Southeast Asia

Series 02:

Beyond the Absence of Killings and Arrests

Exploring “Media Safety” in the Context of Southeast Asia

Series 03:

Making The World We Want

A Manifesto for Media Freedom and Independence in Southeast Asia

Explore more publications from the series:

Be part of the regional solidarity.

We are strongest when we work together. Collective action and care must be at the heart of our community. Thus, power and resources should be distributed rather than centralised, and exercised collectively rather than directed from the top down.