Government Media News Analysis

Forecast: dull and wet

ASEAN celebrates 50th founding anniversary

While the mass-media vortex of negative news coverage on Philippine affairs continues to rage – with heavy precipitation falling on the country’s leader, President Rodrigo Duterte – the media-weather outlook for the next few days is for squalls interspersed by continual drizzle and plenty of cloud as a tropical depression moves closer to the Philippines.

Generally it will be dull and wet with media showers spread fairly evenly as heads of state from across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) region gather in Manila for this year’s historic summit. Asean celebrates its golden jubilee this year.

For the world’s Liberal media, this gathering is a pot pourri of rich targets – a group of emerging-market leaders, none of whom are even vaguely of the same political persuasion as them. There are country heads here for which the Western media and their domestic clones have been gunning for years.

Any Liberal hack attending the summit must feel like a candy addict entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in search of a sugar rush. What to go for first? Licorice or marshmallows – Indonesia or Vietnam. The fact is there isn’t a single country in this 10-states regional grouping that the Liberal-loyal media doesn’t have a major issue with. And that goes for the heads of those states too. So Duterte’s in very good company.

Here’s a snapshot of how the Leftist self-appointed press-watchdog NGO, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) ranks each of them. This is the organisation from which the Liberal press take their lead, making it a sound barometer.

Out of the 180 countries which comprise this year’s RWB World Press Freedom Index, the second best performance, oddly, is from the Philippines which is placed at 127. But every single member state of Asean is ranked in the bottom half of this index. Let’s take a closer look.

Brunei. RWB rank: 156. This tiny oil state perched on the top of Borneo is headed by its Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also prime minister. And he knows a thing or two about the savagery of the mass media. In 2014 when he announced the introduction of Shariah Law measures into his kingdom, the Western media and Hollywood went ape as the Liberal masses swooned and fainted for the cameras as they laid siege to The Beverly Hills Hotel which sits on the sacred Liberal turf of Los Angeles. This is one of a suite of luxury hotels in the Dorchester Collection, a group owned and operated by the Brunei Investment Agency, a sovereign wealth fund with which the Sultan as head of state is closely associated.

While the demonstrations had little effect, other than slightly inconveniencing the hotel patrons, the media went for Bolkiah in a press blitz that dragged up his past as a “playboy” – complete with accounts of hookers and booze-fuelled orgies, the feud with his brother, Prince Jefri, over millions of dollars that disappeared when he was the sultanate’s finance minister, and the sultan’s 7,000-strong luxury-car collection. Bolkiah is described as a dictator and a tyrant by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Cambodia. RWB rank: 132. Head of state is Lord Prime Minister, Supreme Military Commander Hun Sen – 32 years in the post and one of the longest-serving leaders in the world. Media access in Cambodia is difficult, so there’s the first black mark; infiltrating and bribing the domestic media as the Liberals have done so successfully in the Philippines is impossible here. It’s 100% state owned, so there’s the second black mark.

Hun Sen is a regular target of the rabid Liberal apologists such as the UK’s Guardian which claims he’s “consolidated power with violence and intimidation of opponents”. Human Rights Watch accuses him of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, summary trials, censorship, bans on assembly and association and keeping a “national network of spies and informers intended to frighten and intimidate the public into submission”. Similar charges have been made by Amnesty International.

Of course, little account is taken of what preceded Hun Sen’s rule in Cambodia which was some of the worst genocide the world has ever witnessed. This was the era of the Khmer Rouge and its despotic ruler Pol Pot who unleashed a killing spree in which more than 2 million people perished. Hun Sen was one of the Vietnamese-backed leaders who brought that ugly chapter to a close.

Indonesia. RWB rank: 124. Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widowo, born in a Jakarta slum, is the country’s president – and a popular one at that. This is a country that flirted with the Liberal cause just once – under the lacklustre presidency of Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001-2004). Today, the proponents of Liberalism regard Indonesia as a wayward state. Western media condemn “draconian” anti-drug laws embedded in a “harsh” Penal Code; they rail against capital punishment and the long prison terms handed down there.

Jokowi, like Duterte, is uncompromising when it comes to the flow of drugs in his country. Indonesia has zero tolerance where illegal narcotics are concerned and those convicted of drug offences are invariably executed; usually by firing squad. Appeals for clemency rarely succeed.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has targeted the Indonesian coal industry. Claiming that it’s responsible for 7,100 premature deaths a year in the archipelago, it charges the leader of the world’s second largest coal exporter with a “business-as-usual approach” that’s killing his people. Add to that the media’s deep concerns over press freedom in this country and the Liberals have plenty on their plate here.

Laos. RWB rank: 170. The prime minister is Thongloun Sisoulith. Educated in Vietnam and the old Soviet Union, he’s a Russian speaker and fluent in English. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, to give it its proper name, is a Marxist-Leninist one-party communist republic, and as such is just about as far away from the Liberal message as it’s possible to get. Countries like this keep Liberals awake at night.

It is ideologically committed and its immediate future – in terms of developing its economy by attracting investment and trade – is tied to fellow communist states, China and Vietnam. Liberalism has about as much chance of penetrating Laos as Buddhists have of taking over the Vatican.

As far as illegal drugs are concerned, for serious offences the death penalty is mandatory in Laos. Amnesty International charges the country’s leaders with exerting “stringent state control”, human-rights abuses including “enforced disappearances”, and restricting civil liberties such as Internet access, press freedom, freedom of expression and the rights of peaceful association and assembly.

Malaysia. RWB rank: 144. Prime Minister Najib Razak – another prime target of the Liberal movement. Presently, he’s at the centre of a storm emanating from allegations that he siphoned money to his bank account and those of his cronies from a fund set up to develop power plants in Terengganu state. But his problems don’t end there.

Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2017, states that the Najib’s government is “seriously undermining democratic institutions and the rights of all Malaysian citizens”. Meanwhile, critics in the media slam his use of the “draconian” (that word again) Official Secrets Act, the Communications and Multimedia Act, the National Security Council Act, the Sedition Act – and, of course, the country’s Penal Code – describing them as “tools of repression,” all of which should be repealed.

The death sentence is mandatory in Malaysia for drug trafficking, murder, terrorism and aiding terrorist acts, treason, insurrection against the King – the Yang di-Pertuan Agong – rapes that cause death, and child rape. Kidnapping can result in either the death penalty or a life sentence, either of which is preceded by a flogging. Corporal punishment is legal in schools, under Shariah Law, and in the judicial system. According to Amnesty International, caning “subjects thousands of people each year to systematic torture and ill-treatment, leaving them with permanent physical and psychological scars”. Najib is unlikely to be overlooked.

Myanmar. RWB rank: 131. The president is U Htin Kyaw, but his duties at the summit will be performed by State Counsellor and Foreign Minister, Aung San Suu Kyi – a one-time icon of the global Liberal movement which should more or less guarantee that Myanmar gets more favourable coverage than any other Asean state.

But the media have big issues with Myanmar. And top of the list is the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, described by the United Nations as “very likely… crimes against humanity”. Suu Kyi had been uncharacteristically silent on the issue and the international media had more or less given her a free pass until a commission she appointed concluded “there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region”.

In all but name, Myanmar is run by a military government and in all areas of society the army has considerable power and influence. The country has strict press laws, controls the media tightly and although there’s a moratorium on capital punishment, jail terms are long and prison conditions are notoriously bleak. Human rights and civil liberties groups constantly criticise the slow pace of democratisation in Myanmar. Oddly though, for all that, it gets considerably less bad press than the Philippines which is a full-fledged functioning democracy.

Singapore. RWB rank: 151. Head of state is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This is a love-hate relationship where the Liberals can never get the upper hand. Singapore is an important financial centre and for business coverage access to government and its agencies is vital. There are lines here for journalists though that cannot be crossed.

The 2017 RWB report has this to say: “Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government responds vigorously to criticism from journalists and does not hesitate to sue its detractors and apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country”.

The city state has a long history of conflict with the media and in all instances the government has won. It also has both corporal and capital punishment – long-drop hanging carried out in Changi Prison – on the statue books and doesn’t hesitate to impose them. The Liberal media have their issues here but they’ll tread carefully. Here they’ve learned their lesson.

Thailand. RWB rank: 142. The prime minister is Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army who heads the ruling junta, the National Council for Peace and Order which has governed the country since it came to power in a 2014 coup d’état. Effectively, this is martial law in practice and represents everything Liberals everywhere detest.

High on the media’s list of grievances is press control – in particular via the regime’s restriction of Internet access, surveillance of journalists, arbitrary detention and use of the country’s lèse majesté and deformation laws. RWB describes Prayut as a “press-freedom predator”.

Drug trafficking is punishable by death in Thailand as too are 35 other crimes. But while that and lack of press freedom are perennial concerns of the media, the abiding questions they would like answered by Prayut is when will national elections be held – they’ve been repeatedly delayed – and what role will the army play in a democratic government? Good luck with those.

Vietnam. RWB rank: 175. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc heads a one-party communist government that shows no intention of embracing anything remotely Liberal. Dissent within the country is quickly dealt with while overseas dissenters are branded terrorists. Guaranteed to send shivers up the back of the Liberals wherever they may be, the Vietnamese Communist Party’s general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, is very clear about the Party’s handling of political reform: “A country without discipline would be chaotic and unstable … we need to balance democracy and law and order”.

Closer to China today than it’s ever been, earlier hopes of it democratising and even Westernising have all but evapourated. The international media repeatedly charges Vietnam with restricting all basic rights – freedoms of speech, opinion, the press, association and religion.

The fact is that the US tried to impose democracy on this country by means of a two-decades-long war that left the best part of 2 million dead. It failed. And the Party’s monopoly on power is as strong as it’s ever been and, despite a few softening nuances here and there, its Marxist-Leninist DNA remains pure.

These then are the nine individuals who along with Duterte will be “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” according to this year’s Asean Summit theme. But the fact is the Liberal media doesn’t particularly like any of them – and certainly not the way their countries are being run.

That’s good news, though, because for the next few days it will take some of the media heat of Duterte as they pick and choose other fish to fry. And it also confirms something else – that the independent course along which Duterte is taking his country will be fully backed by every single leader in this region.