First of two parts
First of all, I want to congratulate the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication of Thammasat University on its sixtieth or diamond anniversary. Truly, this faculty is a gem that shines and stands out among other faculties or departments of journalism in Asean.
Today, I want to talk to you about the responsibilities of journalists in the Asean Economic Community.
I will not talk to you about our rights. We all know our rights as provided by the United Nations. UNESCO, for example, “actively promotes the safety of those who produce journalism and believes that they have the right to work free from the threat of violence and to ensure the right to freedom of opinion and expression for all.”1 On 29 September 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, unanimously adopted Resolution 27/L.7, which reiterated, among other things, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which declared that “the right of freedom of opinion and expression is a human right guaranteed to all,” and in no uncertain terms, “condemns unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, and intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations.”2 We just celebrated, in fact, the second of November, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
I will not talk to you about our rights because they are routinely violated anyway in many, if not most of the countries in Asean. Certainly, they are violated in my own country. In the 2014 world ranking of countries most dangerous for journalists done by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Philippines ranked third behind Iraq and Somalia. The Philippines “has held the third worst spot on the index since 2010,” with more than 50 murders of journalists unsolved from 2004 to 2013.3 My country is in the unenviable position of having the reputation of being the freest in Asean, yet also being the most intolerant of journalists. Just last week, as you must have read, the Philippine government even banned journalists from Hong Kong from entering the country, for the flimsy reason that they tried to have an ambush interview of the Philippine president during a meeting in Indonesia.
Instead of bad news, I want to talk about good news. I want to talk about the Asean Economic Community or AEC, the place of media in the blueprint of AEC, where we are now, where we should be, and how we can get there.
The important thing to remember is that Asean does not stand alone. It exists very much in the shadow of the giant economies of India, China, and Japan. Even if we situate ourselves in a region with our giant partners, we cannot think of the Asean economy without thinking of all the other economies in the world, notably the European Union and the United States of America.
Having said that, let me return to the blueprint of the AEC. What exactly is Asean 2015 or the AEC all about? The blueprint says it explicitly: “The Asean Leaders at their Summit in Kuala Lumpur in December 1997 decided to transform Asean into a stable, prosperous, and highly competitive region with equitable economic development, and reduced poverty and socio-economic disparities (Asean Vision 2020).”4 Allow me to highlight the important words in that declaration: “equitable economic development, reduced poverty and socio-economic disparities.” It is obvious that, when it comes to economies in Asean, some countries are more equal than others. The idea is not to make the rich countries as poor as the poor countries, but to make the poor countries as rich as the rich countries. That, in any case, in the vision. A vision, as you know, is always long-term, but for Asean, long-term hopefully will not be too long-term.
The war against poverty cannot be won. The world has tried that for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, but we have not succeeded. There will always be poor people among us, if only because the total amount of wealth in the world is a finite number that, when divided, is bound to be unequally divided. But our aim is at least to reduce poverty, to reduce the gap between rich and poor individuals, rich and poor families, rich and poor countries. Within countries, it is clear that poverty is the result of socio-economic disparities. Not everybody has the same opportunity to get a complete education, to find a comfortable job, to gain some kind of power over their own destiny. But it is just a vision, something we can aspire for, because as Robert Browning put it, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”
That is the general idea of the Asean Economic Community. Now, what does the blueprint say about media, about us?
To answer that question, we have to go to Section C or Section 76 of Article 3 of the blueprint, entitled “Communications,” the following passage occurs: Success of building the AEC requires involvement by all stakeholders in the integration process. In addition to involving all stakeholders in the formulation of the Blueprint, a good communications programme is required to create greater public awareness of the AEC in all Asean countries as well as to keep all stakeholders, including the business communities and people of Asean, informed of the progress of this community building.” Allow me to highlight the words that are most relevant to us: “communications programme, greater public awareness, informed of the progress of this community building.”
There we have it, our mandate from the Asean. We are the experts in communications; therefore, it is obviously us that can create and maintain the communications programme that Asean is talking about. We are experts in creating public awareness of anything, news, products, even rumors; clearly, we are being called upon to help create public awareness. But public awareness of what? Public awareness “of the progress of this community building.”
The second part of this speech will appear on this page tomorrow.
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1“Safety of Journalists and Impunity,” http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/freedom-of-expression/safety-of-journalists/, accessed 23 November 2014.
2 “Resolution 27/L.7: The safety of journalists,” http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/HRC/27/L.7, accessed 23 November 2014.
3 Elizabeth Witchel, “Getting Away with Murder,” http://cpj.org/reports/2014/04/impunity-index-getting-away-with-murder.php, published 16 April 2014, accessed 23 November 2014.
4 “Asean Economic Community Blueprint,” http://www.asean.org/archive/5187-10.pdf, accessed 23 November 2014.