Around 30 people showed up to the Perspectives on the State of Journalism panel Wednesday evening to hear three panelists, each representing different Southeast Asian countries, speak on their experiences as journalists.
The event started with each speaker talking about their career and works focusing on Southeast Asia before moving into a Q&A session with the audience. Documentary filmmaker Orlando de Guzman explained his work in the Philippines, describing his experience filming police violence and civilian murders following the election of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.
“Soon after he was elected, I went immediately back to the Philippines because I felt it would be a rather big change in society,” de Guzman said. “The usual night beat reporters who cover crime would go out and there would be at least two dozen killings a night we wouldn’t even spend time in one place before we’d have to run off to another.”
According to de Guzman, covering the events in the Philippines became more difficult following the widespread attention of the killings. He also expressed his overarching concerns reporting the Philippines’ political situation.
“As the months went on as more and more international attention was put on the killings and as international criticism rained down on all of this, it became harder and harder to do our work,” de Guzman said. “It got to a point where police stopped sharing information with us about where killings were taking place.”
De Guzman went on to stress the dangers of journalistic work in the Philippines.
“Looming over everything is that fact that the Philippines is still probably the most dangerous place for journalists working in areas outside of a war zone,” de Guzman said. “I wish I could be more positive by where things are going in the Philippines right now, but I feel that’s a bit premature.”
Panelist Arlyn Gajilan, Reuters deputy managing editor, went on to present and discuss a video of two Reuters journalists captured in Myanmar while covering the killing of 10 men. Gajilan said the situation highlights the dangers of journalism in violent areas.
“Despite our size and influence, we are like any other journalist working in a country where people are oppressed,” Gajilan said. “They are subject to the same kind of dangers, and thats whats happened here.”
Gajilan said many people fail to recognize the true impact of violence towards journalists.
“It’s easy to think of them as journalists, it’s kind of a nice safer road,” Gajilan said. “But then journalists are people too, with families and children and ties to the local community so there is a human toll.”
As the final speaker, Tyrell Haberkorn, Southeast Asian studies professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, focused mainly on the state of reporting and voice suppression in Thailand. Haberkorn highlighted the reasoning behind the concern of freedom of expression to oppressive regimes in Thailand.
“Why are dictators so afraid of freedom of expression and what do they do when they’re afraid,” Haberkorn said. “They’re afraid their misdeeds will become uncovered, they’re afraid that upon seeing this information, citizens will become subjects, not objects, and they will rise up.”
A fourth speaker, photojournalist Hkun Lat, was supposed to speak but could not attend due to issues obtaining a visa, according to Allen Hicken, political science professor and moderator of the event.
In the Q&A section, audience members asked several questions regarding the effects social media poses on journalism in Southeast Asia. According to Haberkorn, social media sites such as Facebook provide both a positives and negative impact for citizens looking to freely express their views.
“Facebook is both a tremendous platform for dissonance and to call for action,” Haberkorn said. “But it is also a place of great danger largely because of those who are accused of imposing the monarchy have been accused on the basis of Facebook posts.”
AJ Vicens, audience member and Knight-Wallace fellow, said he is happy there are people who bring these Southeast Asian issues to light on campus.
“Clearly journalism is a troubled institution around the world,” Vicens said. “To hear from these people their perspectives on what’s happening in Southeast Asia is just so important and I’m glad there are people paying attention to all that’s going on over there.”
De Guzman said issues are faced by journalists all over the world, and the issues may increase before the problem can be solved.
“We are seeing a kind of really rising populism and mix of nationalism in the country, a mix of white nationalism,” de Guzman said. “I feel there are more and more dangers now that journalists face, especially those who have to be there where things are happening, and it might get a lot worse before it gets better. It’s an exciting time to be a journalist but it’s also getting to be extremely dangerous.”
Vicens said he hopes viewers leave with respect for journalists who work in a dangerous time.
“Reporters are putting their lives on the line, quite literally to get truth out in these countries,” Vicens said. “It’s very difficult work, it’s not very appreciated in a lot of places. In the face of such opposition from the community, the government and security forces they are doing such hard work and people should respect that.”