Asian Currents vol. 3 SY 2009-10


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Asian Currents is a collection of stories and research papers written by journalists from all over Asia who came together in pursuit of the Master’s degree in journalism, a program of the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila

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i am i am ISSN 1908-9236 vol. 3 | SY 2009-2010 J o u r n a l o f w o r k s a n d S t u d i e s i n A s i a n J o u r n a l i s m o f t h e ko n r a d a d e n a u e r a si a n c e n t e r f o r j o u r n a l is m at t h e at e n e o d e m a ni l a u ni v e r si t y singaporeans discover an alternative “soapbox” malaysians find a voice in the blogosphere drawing power of blogs how technology equips, expands and empowers broadcast giant and citizen journalists watchdog the elections mobile phones help reporters overcome obstacles ethical dilemmas during crisis coverage official sources and objectivity in news reports legislating the right of reply thailand tries public service broadcasting economics of blocktime radio commentaries religion in the news doing a documentary on filipino migrant workers the market economy and the children’s media church radio airs truth that sets people free photo stories teenage mothers shrinking food, soaring prices living in “x” gagamboys a long arduous journey


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currents Journal of works and Studies in Asian Journalism of the konrad adenauer asian center for journalism at the ateneo de manila university asian i am i am ISSN 1908-9236 is a publication of the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University. ACFJ is a unit of the Ateneo’s Department of Communication. asiancurrents asiancurrents is published annually. EditorS Violet B. Valdez Mukund Padmanabhan Photo Editor Karsten Thielker Layout East Axis Creative, Inc. Advisers of master’s projects Mustafa Anuar Cheryl Borsoto Chay Hofileña Jo Aurea Imbong Kim Kierans Ma. Estelle Ladrido Eric Loo Mukund Padmanabhan editorial assistant Jevrice V. Mariano The photos for the cover and the section dividers were taken from the portfolios of students of the Diploma in Photojournalism program. About Asian Currents Asian Currents is a collection of stories and research papers written by journalists from all over Asia who came together in pursuit of the Master’s degree in journalism, a program of the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University (ACFJ). Each piece was originally submitted as a Master’s Project, the final requirement for the degree. The project is either a work in journalism such as an in-depth or investigative report, or a study of journalism institutions, practices and processes. It represents a synthesis of the journalist-student’s accumulated knowledge, skills and values, and is an opportunity to contribute insights and new knowledge on issues of importance to Asia. Photo credits About ACFJ ACFJ is a collaboration between the KonradAdenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the Ateneo de Manila University. Through its media programs, KAS, a German political foundation, aims to enlarge the public sphere through informed debate. Ateneo, a private university run by the Jesuits, has been in the forefront of achievement and innovation in education since its founding in 1859. ACFJ promotes good journalism by providing training and educational opportunities for working journalists. It pioneered online journalism education in Asia, bringing together reporters, writers, editors and publishers from different cities and time zones to pursue lifelong learning. ACFJ developed the two-year Master of Arts in Journalism program and runs it under the Ateneo Department of Communication. It also offers the Diploma in Photojournalism and other short-term training programs. Cover Fire victims Rogelio Luis T. Liwanag Part 1 On their knees Benjamin Rasmussen Part 2 Shoot-out Remar Zamora Part 3 Malnutrition ward Alanah Leyna Torralba Part 4 Walking on water Renato Lumawag Part 5 Manila waters Ma. Virginia Cruz


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i am currents ISSN 1908-9236 vol. 3 | SY 2009-2010 asian Journal of works and Studies in Asian Journalism of the konrad adenauer asian center for journalism at the ateneo de manila university Message Editors’ notes par t 1 Inside the Internet Freedom of expression and the World Wide Web 1 3 6 11 15 20 Contents Pushing the boundaries By Trixia Enriquez Carungcong Singaporeans discover an alternative “soapbox” in political blogs Freedom in Malaysian cyberspace 2 essays Finding a voice in the blogosphere By Susan Tam Chi Mei The drawing power of blogs By Derrick Vinesh Visvanathan par t 2 journalism in your hands Technology recasts journalism Equip. Expand. Empower. By Michael Josh Villanueva 3 essays 1  Reporter of tomorrow… today 2  Newscasts in the digital age 3  For the people, by the people? Empowering Citizens By Marie Antonette T. Pacheco Broadcast giant inspires audiences to watchdog the elections 27


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i am iv contents Shattering borders By Karen Lema Mobile phones help reporters overcome obstacles 31 36 41 46 50 54 par t 3 A Mat ter of E thics Best practices in the journalistic sphere When Journalists See Gray By Ma. Concepcion Cruz Ethical dilemmas during crises coverage Relying on Official Sources By Pham Huu Chuong Balance and objectivity in reporting the Asian food crisis Veiled threat to press freedom By Maricar L. Bautista Legislating the right of reply Wishful thinking? By Bruce Avasadanond Thailand experiments with public service broadcasting Economics of blocktime commentaries By Isolde D. Amante 3 essays 1  Spin for sale 2  Of libel and economic imperatives 3  Regulating blackmail par t 4 Seeking an audience Giving voice to other groups Religion in the news By Paulus Bambang Wisudo Do newspapers of different faiths inspire — or inhibit — diversity? Marginalized and misunderstood By Ilang-Ilang Quijano Documenting the plight of Filipino overseas workers 64 68


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i am contents v Media for minors By Huynh Cam Tung Repercussions of the market economy to children’s media in Vietnam The truth shall set us free By Isabel L. Templo 3 essays 1  Radio Veritas leads a revolution 2  Church radio out in the boondocks: Daring where angels fear to tread 3  The business of church radio 72 77 par t 5 Asian News in Pictures Photo stories Teenage Mothers By Ma. Cristina Luisa Sevilla Shrinking Food, Soaring Prices By Rogelio Luis T. Liwanag Living in X By Rony Zakaria Gagamboys By Stanley Cabigas A long arduous journey By Remar Zamora 86 88 90 92 94


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i am 1 Message T he content of this anniversary edition of Asian Currents is marked by an impressive variety — a diversity that reflects the interests and the nationalities of the students who enroll for the M.A. Journalism program run by the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University. It also shows some of the best works of students who have taken the Diploma in Photojournalism. There are contributions of students from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia on a range of every kind of media — print, television, radio and the Internet — and on a multiplicity of issues that concern the media, including freedom of expression, ethics and best practices, and the role of new technologies in recasting journalistic practice. The 15 articles in this volume deal with an interesting assortment of subjects such as trends in the children’s print media in Vietnam, the challenges faced by Catholic radio in the Philippines, and on how religion is reported in Indonesia and Malaysia. By analyzing issues and tracking trends connected to the media, this volume provides a window into contemporary issues in Asian current affairs. The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s Media Programme Asia is happy to be associated with this issue of Asian Currents, which will make the students’ Master’s Projects available — and deservedly — to a wider audience. This issue is but a fitting way to mark ACFJ’s tenth anniversary. p Director Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Media Programme Asia Paul Linnarz


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i am 3 Editors’ notes I n 2003, ACFJ launched the two-year program leading to the Master of Arts, major in journalism. Seven years hence, more than 100 journalists from 14 Asian countries have enrolled in the program, and 79 have earned their degrees. To earn the degree, the journalist-students write a capstone project, the Master’s Project, which is either a work (an in-depth article of around 7,000 words for example) or a study of journalism (research on journalistic institutions, practices and processes). It is a synthesis of the knowledge, skills and values accumulated by the journalist-students during the program and a demonstration of their ability to engage issues either of public interest or pertaining to journalism. As the Master’s Projects began to grow in number, ACFJ decided it was time to share with a larger public the wealth of information and insight the projects held. It is after all ACFJ’s mandate to contribute to knowledge about contemporary journalism practice and research, and to participate in the informed discussion of public issues. With a generous grant from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, we started to publish the first of these projects in Asian journalism. Blood on Their Hands (2006), a compilation of the works of the first batch of M.A. Journalism graduates, was the premier edition. The next two collections of students’ projects would come out in 2007 and 2008 under the banner Asian Currents. An innovation was introduced in 2008, when selected photo essays from the portfolios of students in the Diploma in Photojournalism program were included in the publication. By then, the program, which piloted in 2006, had already graduated three batches and was going strong. This present volume is special as it marks ACFJ’s tenth anniversary. For this anniversary edition, only Master’s Projects that focused on developments and issues in the Asian press were considered. Fifteen made the cut. The articles carry two sub-themes. There are those that discuss some of the key issues confronting the Asian news media in light of the way the Internet is relentlessly altering the face of the “old” media. Others take up issues that have constantly confounded the press such as (to mention only two) veiled and overt threats to its freedom and the tightrope between responsibility to society and the imperatives of the industry. As with previous editions, these projects were edited for publication and the entire academic apparatus of footnotes disman-


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i am 4 asiancurrents tled. Instead, sources were mentioned as part of the main text and in lists of references. A style closer to journalistic usage was imposed to smoothen the copy. Not least, the works were trimmed to about only a fourth of their original size (sometimes even less). In fact, the essays are extracts — substantial and representative, yes, but still extracts. To publish everything would have required a volume encyclopedic in proportion. Readers who want the full accounts are of course welcome to read the originals kept in the ACFJ library. In addition to the Master’s Projects, five photo essays, among the best works by graduates of the photojournalism program in the last three years, are included. These portray issues that bedevil contemporary Asian society today including teenage pregnancy, food scarcity, poverty and social injustice. p


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i am Part 1 inside the internet Freedom of expression and the World Wide Web


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i am 6 asiancurrents Pushing the boundaries Singaporeans discover an alternative “soapbox” in political blogs | By Trixia Enriquez Carungcong eet Singapore’s “blogfather,” Lee Kin Mun, more popularly known on the Internet as “Mr. Brown.” The 38-yearold writes satirically about social and political issues in the city-state and has a reputation that goes beyond the online realm. Lee is one of the few bloggers who has had a strong following in mainstream media, having written a weekly column for Today, the free commuter newspaper. After the general election of 6 May 2006, when the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) won 82 out of the 84 seats in Parliament, Lee wrote a piece poking fun at a series of price hikes. It received strong criticism from the government and in July 2006, his column was axed. The article later appeared in his blog ( and received 131 comments and was widely talked about. The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts wrote: “It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues or campaign for or against the government.” In his national day speech, Prime Minister Lee Hseien Loong said the satirical column had “hit out wildly at the government and in a very mocking and dismissive sort of tone.” Lee admits he still hasn’t gotten over what happened: “Who would expect that? Who knew that was an OB marker? I’ve written more controversial ones before. How come I didn’t get in trouble for those?” The saga signaled an important point in the history of Singapore’s blogosphere. Bloggers saw it as heavy-handed punishment, but some observers said it was the government’s way of making a clear distinction between mainstream media and alternative media, a reflection that writing controversial commentary on political issues receives greater tolerance online. Associate Professor Cherian George of Nanyang Technological University points out that only the print column was discontinued while the blog on which the offending article was posted was free to continue. Lee believes it is a good lesson for everyone: “It raised interesting questions and if it led people to question the media environment they’re in, that’s good. Maybe it was an example of the old way of doing things colliding with elements of the new. Five to 10 years ago, you wouldn’t get away with poking fun and laughing at things. The column itself was a significant experiment.” In the face of Singapore’s strict controls on media, people have been reluctant to engage in public discourse about political issues. But now, more and more Singaporeans are recognizing that blogs can be an alternative. Wired nation With a population of about 4.6 million, Singapore has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world. According to the Asia Internet Usage Stats and 2005 Population Statistics, there were over 2.4 million Internet users as of September 2005 or 66.3 percent of the population. That number is M This essay was culled from a Master’s Project submitted in 2008.


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i am pushing the boundaries trixia enriquez carungcong 7 set to grow, with the government offering free wireless broadband connection in selected areas under its program Wireless@SG. The Information Development Authority expected the number of wi-fi hotspots to increase more than five-fold, from 900 to about 5,000 by September 2007. Blogging became popular in the United States in 1999. Prior to that, political discussions online were mostly confined to newsgroups, which had their beginnings in 1979. It wasn’t until the elections of 2001 that blogging found its way to Singapore. Lee says he used to participate in a very active forum, regularly posting rants about life in the citystate. He created his blog in 2001, when his writing had already become popular: “People started asking me for back issues, and I didn’t want to keep sending them so I set up a simple site and put everything there. That’s how started out — as a repository.” Another socio-political blogger, Alex Au (www. is a leading gay activist. Au, who freelances as a writer and photographer, started his blog in November 1996, focusing on issues such as human rights and free speech: “Over time, this grew to broader political issues.” He adds: “There is a vast body of chatter that is free and it is building up over the web.” Indeed, blogging, which has become particularly popular among the young, appears to have catalyzed a mini-cultural revolution. Since 1965, when the Republic was formed and the People’s Action Party took over, many Singaporeans have grown accustomed to a culture of silence when it comes to issues related to governance, race, and religion. The PAP put in place rules that gave the authorities control over public gatherings. Those who want to hold lectures and debates in public places, for example, need to apply for a permit. Although debate existed online in the form of forums and groups, they were not as accessible and ubiquitous as blogs are today. Though most blogs are of a personal nature, some are specifically directed at discussing political issues. Blogs have become online versions of Singapore’s Speaker’s Corner, where people can speak on issues that mat- ter. Unlike the actual Corner in Hong Lim Park, a blog is a space that allows one to be heard by more people at a time convenient to them. Political blogs While the government insists that politics is no laughing matter, political humor is becoming more popular in Singapore. According to a 2006 Reuters report,, a website that relentlessly pokes fun at the government, receives four million hits per month in a country of 4.6 million. In 2006, mrbrown’s podcasts about life in Singapore were downloaded 20,000 times, up tenfold from the previous year. Researcher Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies says: “These websites touch a popular vein. They deal with issues of everyday life in a language that can be understood in the kopitiam (coffee shop).” Others think government disapproval of these websites has added to their appeal. In a speech on 1 April 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there was space for political debate in Singapore, but he also stressed that discussions on politics must be taken seriously: “Countries can become unstable if political figures are not given basic respect and acceptance.” He also reiterated that the government would respond to criticism it disagreed with: “Because if we don’t respond, untruths will be repeated and will be believed, and eventually will be treated as facts and the government and the leaders will lose the respect of the population and the moral authority to govern.” Although this has been a consistent stand by the Singapore government, with the vastness of the Internet, it has not been possible for any one entity to fully control discussion online, which is why bloggers get away with controversial remarks. However, as a precaution, some have resorted to posting anonymously. Tan Tarn How and Arun Mahizhnan of the Institute of Public Policy note that, “In a political culture that discourages dissent, anonymous online activity offers a way of participation that is relatively risk-free.” Trixia Enriquez Carungcong joined the Today newspaper in November 2008 as its deputy foreign editor. She was previously a senior producer at Channel NewsAsia and a journalist at The Straits Times Foreign Desk. Trixia received the Dean’s Award for Campus Journalism for her work as editor-in-chief of The Guidon, the campus paper of the Ateneo de Manila University where she finished her bachelor’s degree.



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