Indigenous Media, Freedom of Expression and Right to Information: ASEAN Scenario

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand on August 8, 1967 with the purpose of accelerating economic, social and cultural development through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership.

ASEAN also endeavors to promote peace and stability in the region through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law among member countries and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. Today ASEAN membership has grown to ten with its expansion to Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999).

The ASEAN member states are politically, socially, economically and religiously distinct from one another. The political landscape extends from democratic and transitioning societies—the Philippines, Indonesia and increasingly Myanmar—to repressive single-party regimes—Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Member economies range from prosperous—Singapore and Brunei to middle-income—Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, to the poorest nations on the regional spectrum—Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Regardless of their political and economic status, however, indigenous peoples in ASEAN countries continue to suffer social injustices, discrimination, and marginalization and exclusion in development and decision making processes that affect their lives. As a result, they remain among the poorest of the poor and are the most vulnerable groups to gross human rights violations.

The common challenges faced by indigenous peoples in ASEAN include: non-recognition as indigenous peoples; violation of their rights to land, territories and resources due to concessions for mining, logging and plantations, extractive industries, infrastructure development and declaration of national parks and conservation areas; non-recognition of traditional livelihood practices; forced resettlement and forced assimilation; and violation of indigenous women’s rights, among others.

The status of the human, political and civil rights of indigenous peoples in ASEAN relates directly to their rights to media, information and freedom of expression. Media plays animportant role in promoting and protecting indigenous peoples’ rights as well as their inclusive participation in decision making and social equity. A lack of information and communication channels for them to express their perspectives and influence public opinion increases their vulnerabilities to human rights violations, marginalization and exclusion from decision making.

This briefing paper provides an assessment of the overall situation of indigenous peoples in relation to their right to media, access to information and freedom of expression as emphasized in article 16 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It aims to draw the attention of and to provide recommendations to policy makers, donors and activists/journalists on the lack of these rights for indigenous peoples that deprive them of channels to voice out their concerns and participate in shaping the social and political agenda in ASEAN countries. As expressed in UNDRIP, indigenous peoples’ right to media is not limited to the right to information and freedom of expression. States have the obligation to create an enabling environment and to provide adequate support and resources needed for establishing indigenous community media, including measures for ensuring sustainability.

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