A CONFERENCE on free expression in cyberspace will bring together independent online providers of news and commentary from Southeast Asia, South Asia and East Asia in Manila to share experiences and discuss needs, threats, trends, and issues of ethics and the emerging roles and responsibilities of bloggers, podcasters and the alternative online media.
Dubbed “Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace: A Conference of Asian Bloggers, Podcasters and Online Media,” the three-day meeting sponsored by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), in cooperaton with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), will be held at The Asian Institute of Management Conference Center (ACCEED) in Makati from April 19-21, 2006.
Regarded as the most crucial front for free expression in the region and the rest of the developing world, cyberspace has become a battleground between those who seek to exploit its vastness and inherent openness to promote freedom of expression, and those who seek to control it along with the traditional mass media.
For much of Asia, the Internet has become the only viable medium for offering independent news, information and commentary as alternative to prevailing state-controlled news an information regimes. The Internet remains Nepal’s only link to the outside world as the media there try to wage a difficult battle for their existence. Burmese journalists from South and Southeast Asia maximize the online tools from blogs to VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) to circumvent the military junta, one of the harshest and most restrictive regimes in the world.
But free expression in cyberspace has increasingly come under attack or threat in Asia. In China and Vietnam, cyberdissidents continue to be jailed for posting pro-democracy essays on the Net. In Singapore and Malaysia, individual bloggers and webmasters have been threatened with criminal defamation cases and for violation of the Internal Security Act.
Independent websites were shut down by the information ministry in Thailand for being critical of the Thaksin government.
Though largely credited for disseminating the audio files of the taped conversations that seriously cast doubt on the legitimacy of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s election victory, Filipino bloggers, in particular the writers of the PCIJ, were recently threatened by the secretary of justice with cases of “inciting to sedition,” and the Center’s office also targeted by a search warrant.
Day One of the conference will revolve around the theme, “The Asian Internet Experience” to include an overview of cyberjournashlism, blogging and podcasting in the region; how the Internet is changing the media landscape and public discourse in Asia.
Day Two will be devoted to the theme “The Battle for the Internet” featuring sessions on threats and vulnerabilities represented by technology (filtering, blocking, censorship), laws and regulations (libel and defamation, anti-terrorism and national security laws) affecting the Internet in Asia; as well as non-legal and non-technological pressures (business and economic factors, gender issues, etc.). Also part of the discussion are the rights and responsibilities of online writers and commentators, and ethics and professionalism as a form of protection.
Day Three will focus on the tools and mechanisms available for protecting the Asian cyberspace. Daily afternoon sessions will be capped by technical workshops on podcasting and multimedia blogging (for Day 1), wikis and online collaboration tools (Day 2), and tools for anonymizing and getting around filtering, blocking and monitoring (Day 3).
A leading proponent of free expression in Southeast Asia, SEAPA was formed in 1998 by some of the region’s most credible, respected, and accomplished journalist groups, including the PCIJ and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) from the Philippines, Thai Journalists’ Association (TJA), and Indonesia’s Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI), and Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).