Journalists Around the World Should Connect with One Another

Posted in: Thoughts

I had the privilege of joining eighteen other journalists from across Asia and Europe at the ASEF Editors’ Roundtable Journalists’ Workshop in Guangzhou, China where we participated in a two day discussion, talking about how we can better understand each other, how we can connect with one another, and possibly collaborate in a cross border reporting project.

Although we live in opposite ends of the world, we read each other’s works. I was surprised that some of them knew the stories that I have been covering and those which are shaping my country (I wish I can say the same about the works my new colleagues have written and the stories shaping their countries).

As journalists we share the same passion for our profession and uphold the same values and principles and share mutual curiosity. We strive to understand one another. We want to know different views and perspectives of people from different backgrounds and nationalities.

As we talk, I realized that there are enormous amount of stories which are overlooked by Asian media which might be important to the European audience. Conversely there are stories overlooked by journalists in Europe that Asians might find relevant.

It is unfortunate that we don’t know about each other’s countries beyond what is reported by CNN or BBC or big international media giants which are controlling the narratives. It is unfortunate that we don’t know more about what is happening in other parts of the world than what our respective foreign ministries and embassies are telling us.

Indonesia executed several people for drug offenses last year. To the Indonesian media, these people are just foreigners trying to smuggle drugs into the country and endanger the lives of Indonesian youths. But for journalists in other countries, the perspectives could be very different. They were somebody’s sons and mothers and siblings who have been lured, tricked or even coerced into this dangerous trade.

It is impossible for journalists in Western European countries to fully comprehend the implication of shutting down their borders to stop the flow of Syrian refugees to their Eastern European counterparts in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. I also learned that the issue of unification is shared by both Ireland and Korea and there is so much to be learned from both countries.

(L-R) Maria Siow (Singapore), me, Stephane Lagarde (France) and Tomasz Sajewicz (Poland) in a group discussion. Photo courtesy of ASEF

(L-R) Maria Siow (Singapore), me, Stephane Lagarde (France) and Tomasz Sajewicz (Poland) in a group discussion. Photo courtesy of ASEF

From my Indian colleague I learned that an Indonesian tycoon was once involved in one of the worst land grabs in Eastern India where hundreds of people were killed by the local security forces trying to evict them from their homes so the Indonesian businessman could set up his plantation. This story was never told in my country and had we known about it, the story would be huge in Indonesia and there would be investigations to see if similar practices also occurred back home in all of the tycoon’s plantations.

There is also the possibility for collaborations. European manufacturers have been buying palm oil from Indonesian and Singaporean companies which in turn are driving mass deforestation in Sumatra and Borneo and pave the way for the extinction of endangered species and the displacement of thousands of indigenous tribesmen in the two Indonesian islands.

The appearance of the Panama Papers took the world by storm with pressures for leaders, some of whom are known for their pledges to combat corruption and tax evasion, to step down and be hold accountable.
I imagine the impact of the leak, no matter how massive the data provided, would not be as powerful, if the German newspaper who first received it had not shared it with hundreds of other journalists across the world through the network provided by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists.

Without this collaboration, the terabytes of data would have just been a list of numbers and names and addresses. It is journalists from these 100 plus countries, armed with their knowledge of their respective countries, who provide meaning and contexts to these numbers and names and addresses.

And that is true with the information that is available freely online and at our finger tips. They are meaningless without people who can decipher them.

At the workshop, we asked ourselves: if only there is a way journalists in Asia and in Europe can communicate with each other. If only there is a platform which connects us all. It doesn’t have to be formalized in some MoU, or agreement or sponsored by an organization. It can be independent, initiated from the ground up, made by journalists for journalists with the common desire to connect.

It can be as simple as forming a Facebook group where we can share information, even if it is as seemingly benign as a European man getting killed in a landslide in Asia. Let alone an Asian government investing a project in Australia which pose a great threat to the environment.

Whatever platform we end up choosing, we should be able to call one another the moment there is a major event like earthquakes, tsunamis, or terrorist attacks and share contacts, get the latest development, provide data, contexts and backgrounds and verification as well as exchange views and information.

In practice it can be as simple as a 5 minute phone call, or a short email, or WhatsApp messages.

Although the implementation is simple the impact can be powerful. Officials will think twice about hiding assets overseas, businesses think twice about conducting illegal and unethical practices in another country.

We are setting this platform or network or whatever it will be one way or another. We hope it will be as powerful as we believe it will be. Or at the very least, enriching our work as journalists and explore possibilities and test ideas and angles and become a new model for journalists worldwide to engage with one another in this ever connected world.


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