The roles of media and communication in Asean


Second of two parts

Our solemn duty as Asean journalists is to make the peoples of Asean aware of Asean itself. Let us remind ourselves again of how many people we are supposed to be responsible for. There are ten countries in Asean: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. If we add the population of each of these countries, we are talking about roughly 600 million people. That is a lot of people. In media terms, that is a lot of clients, that is a lot of readers, that is a lot of viewers.

What is Asean asking us specifically to do? The blueprint lists a concrete action for journalists. It can be found in subsection I of section C or section 76 of Article 3: “Launch a comprehensive communications plan to explain to government officials, key stakeholders, and the general public the objectives, benefits and challenges of the AEC.” That is our mandate. That is our job. That is our responsibility.

Now, are we ready to fulfill this responsibility? First, we must find out exactly where we are today. We need to do research. We have faculties and schools of journalism to do that. We need content analysis research on how much space (for print and online media) and how much time (for broadcast media) are being allotted to Asean news (news about individual countries and also about the region as a whole) in the whole media industry in each country. We need to know if our newspapers, radio stations, television stations, online media, and social media talk about Asean at all, and if so, how often and how much.

We can start with the standard sources, such as World Press Trends 2014, but these sources are sorely lacking in data about Asean. We have to do our own research. This is the challenge for all faculties and schools of journalism.1

Once we know what the situation is right now in our countries about coverage of Asean as a body and not as separate, individual nations, we need to focus on where we should be.

Allow me to give a desiderata, my own vision of what it would be like if Asean citizens and nations were really interested and concerned about the Asean Economic Community.

We would have, among other indicators:

• Asean news on the front pages of the biggest newspapers in each country
• Asean news on primetime news shows in each country
• Asean television talk shows in each country
• Asean reporters, columnists, and editors with language facility in Asean languages
• Asean correspondents and news desks at BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters, Agencia EFE, and other networks and news agencies.

That is easy for me to say and to dream of, but how do we get there? How do we fulfill our obligation to Asean? How do we operationalize our responsibilities.

You are the experts in media in your respective countries. I am sure you can think of more things than I can. Allow me to just list some random ideas that I have been mulling over since I was invited by Thammasat to this conference.

• Visits by editors to all Asean countries
• Asean beat in every newspaper
• Extended exchanges of reporters
• Collaborative news reports
• Online editorial meetings
• Joint editorials on special occasions
• Canned or live coverage of Asean news during shows
• Exchange of segments
• Subtitling of shows in English / Malay / Thai / Chinese
• Prioritizing of travel destinations for travel shows
• Guesting on other countries’ shows
• Guest hosting of shows in other countries
• Live guesting through Viber, Skype, or similar software
• Choice of Asean topics every so often.

There is one concrete step that Thammasat is already doing with my school. We are hopeful that other universities such as the University of Malaya can join us in this endeavor. Goethe University Frankfurt, which has a strong Southeast Asian program, wants to help implement the program. I am talking about a graduate degree, a master of arts degree, in Asean journalism, with a very specific outcome and goal, namely, to produce correspondents and editors of the Asean desks in the international news agencies and networks that I mentioned. These correspondents and editors will have both the professional expertise as well as the language facility to be able to move around the region and report on what is common to the region, in short, to report about the Asean Economic Community. At the moment, we are thinking that English, Malay, and Thai should be the starting and minimum requirements for these Asean correspondents and editors.

Of course, at the same time that we are training Asean correspondents, we have to push the international news agencies and networks to have Asean desks.

We have to do these things, not only because we are Asean citizens and should promote Asean citizenship, but also because our region can never compete with bigger economies if we do not think of ourselves as one. In the Philippines, we have a broom made up of the midribs of palm leaves. These midribs are long strands that are bundled together to make up a broom, or what we call walis na tingting. We have a saying that one midrib or strand is very easy to break into two, but when several midribs or strand are held together, they cannot be broken. It is like the Western saying that a single page of an old telephone book is easy to tear off, but try cutting in half an entire telephone book with your bare hands and you can’t do it. If you will forgive the reference to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 3, verse 25, “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Or as the source of the idea, the Greek writer Aesop,who also talked about a bundle of sticks, put it in The Four Oxen and the Lion, “united we stand, divided we fall.”

If Asean is not going to fail, the people in Asean have to know and to realize and to internalize that they are Asean citizens, not just citizens of individual Asean nations.

That is the essence of our responsibilities as media persons living and working in Asean. As the Thai say, there is light at the end of the tunnel, so what we have to do is doable. As Malaysians and Indonesians say, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so if we have the will, we can always find a way. As the Chinese say, one word is worth a thousand gold. Our words as architects and artists of language are powerful instruments in the campaign to make Asean a true and effective economic community. And finally, as we Filipinos say, no matter how long a journey is, it will always end up at the destination. Our destination is an Asean community that knows that it is an Asean community.

The rest is up to you.

Kop kun. Terima kasih. Xie xie. Cam un. Aw kun. Khawp Jai. Chei zu tin bar te. Dhan ya vaad. Maraming salamat po. Thank you.

1     “World Press Trends Report 2014,”, accessed 23 November 2014.


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