Press freedom is under attack across Asia, creating one of the most restrictive environments for journalists in recent memory. Over the past few months, critical newspapers have been closed and reporters have been charged with crimes for simply doing their jobs. Leaders are routinely crying “fake news” to undermine stories that speak truth to power, employing a phrase made popular by the president of the United States – a country that was once one of the biggest advocates for a free press across the globe.
What’s particularly worrying is that supposedly democratic governments are increasingly taking action to silence critical reporting. It’s no longer just China, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam that are bullying the media. Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar – now led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – are also becoming hazardous for journalists.
Today in Myanmar, two journalists with the Reuters news agency who have been arrested and charged under a section of the Official Secrets Act were denied bail. They now face months in custody during pre-trial hearings on the charges which carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. The FCC deplores the legal action against the pair, which will have a chilling effect on press freedom in Myanmar.
Other recent major incidents include:
– The closure of The Cambodia Daily after 25 years due to government pressure over a tax dispute
– Rappler, a news organisation that undertook brave reporting about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly crackdown on drugs, had its operating license revoked because it violated the country’s restrictions on foreign ownership of domestic media
Press freedom is the core of free societies around the globe. For those who believe in keeping the powerful accountable to the public, it’s more important than ever to speak up. And for all politicians around the globe who care about democratic values, it’s essential to keep up the pressure on those who want to silence journalists.