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28 February 2021
Media Freedom in Asia: Challenges from Below
Advancing media freedom has been one of the megatrends in Asian communication over the past 30-40 years. Media space has been opened up by political revolutions and reform movements, television deregulation, the rollout of the internet, and demands for more choice and voice by hundreds of millions of better educated and more economically empowered citizens.
Over the past decade, however, this trend has slowed, stalled, or even reversed in several Asian societies. This is in line with a global pattern of “democratic recession” and “authoritarian resilience” observed by many analysts. The most obvious cause is the emergence of authoritarian leaders. However, top-down explanations do not capture fully the current dynamics. One striking feature of the state of media freedom in many Asian societies is the ambiguous role of the publics that are ostensibly the main beneficiaries of the right to freedom of expression.
In some settings, popular responses to state interventions range from indifference and apathy to active, partisan support for authoritarian leaders’ attacks on media. In other cases, the attacks come directly from popular movements. Religious and other identity-based groups may even be the main drivers of censorship and self-censorship, in societies where government control is less of an issue. Sometimes, in the absence of well-functioning independent media accountability systems, the public’s legitimate ethical concerns can result in interventions that obstruct the media.
We invite papers that expand our theoretical and empirical understanding of Asian media freedom’s “challenges from below”. The guest editors’ working definition of “media” covers traditional mass media, online media, and internet intermediaries and platforms. We will focus on media that already or potentially contribute to public discourse and political culture, especially news media but also entertainment formats. In line with the Asian Journal of Communication’s scope, papers must be grounded in one or more Asian jurisdictions, and can address the topic from any appropriate disciplinary tradition and methodological approach, including historical, legal and comparative methods.
Submissions are invited on questions such as:
- How and why has support for media freedom changed over time in selected Asian countries?
- How have the rhetorical strategies of populist leaders in Asia sought to delegitimise independent media?
- How do decentralised attacks on media, such as through cyber troops and vigilante violence, operate in Asia and what are their effects?
- How do publics in Asia understand media freedom, for what historical or cultural reasons, and to what extent are their framings compatible with the idea of freedom of expression as a universal human right?
- Based on trends in Asia, how can we better conceptualise media and their publics?
- What makes “free” Asian countries stand out and how in the mostly partly free or not free Asia?
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