Southeast Asia's Press Freedoms Criticized

By: (AP) Press freedom is still restricted within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations despite signs of democratic reforms in some member countries, an independent media watchdog said Thursday.

"We do not see the democratic revolution we were expecting," said Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific representative Vincent Brossard. "For the last three or four years, ASEAN has been very frustrating."

The democratic political process has improved in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines since the late 1990s, Brossard said.

But while restrictions on the media often ease as governments reform, that is not apparent in this region, he said.

Brossard cited Indonesia's restrictions on reporting in the tsunami-wracked province of Aceh, the killing of journalists in the Philippines, and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's quieting of critics as examples of stagnation.

The region's worst-ranking country on RSF's 2004 press freedom index is Myanmar, ranked 165 out of 167, just above Cuba and North Korea.

He also urged ASEAN to prevent Myanmar from assuming its chairmanship in 2006.

ASEAN is made up of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Brunei, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia.

Brossard criticized Singapore, ranked 147 of 167 on RSF's freedom rankings, for frequent use of defamation laws to sue media outlets and political opponents.

Singapore's ranking is by far the lowest position of any developed country on the index.

Foreign news organizations including The Economist, The International Herald Tribune, The Far Eastern Economic Review, and The Asian Wall Street Journal have paid large fines or had their circulation restricted in lawsuits brought by Singapore's ruling party stalwarts.

Singapore leaders have said they sue to defend their reputations and Information Minister Lee Boon Yang has said there were "special circumstances" surrounding press freedom in the city-state, where local media were more focused on nation-building.


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