Media and Democracy in Asia, Vol. 8 - 2001, No. 2
This editorial introduction provides a framework for the later articles. It is concerned to address critically a number of the ways in which the issue of media and democracy in Asia is currently discussed. The sheer variety of the experience of Asia is emphasised, and explanations that seek to account for the past and present shortcomings of democratisation in some Asian countries in terms of general categories are found to be wanting. For example, the use of idea of the influence Confucianism to explain important social phenomena is shown to be insensitive the complexity of the ideas that are lumped together under the single term "Confucianism" and to the evidence both of differences in media behaviour observable in societies undoubtedly influenced by it and to similarities across countries with different backgrounds. The introduction goes on to consider some of the problems about the relationship between state, media, market, globalisation and democracy that remain to be explored in detail. It is pointed out that none of these categories is self-evident, and that one and the same phenomenon can have a different meaning in different social circumstances.
This paper delineates the multiple meanings of democracy and offers a social historical analysis on media and democratisation in China. Notwithstanding conventional perceptions about a disjuncture between economic liberalisation and political repression in China, the suppression of popular quests for political participation and the deprivation of media freedom for a majority of the Chinese population preceded waves of capitalistic developments in post-Mao China. The notion of democracy, meanwhile, has undergone significant transformations. Many activists in the late 1970s advocated popular and participatory democracy. By 1989, democracy had taken an elitist and liberal character among its advocates. Since the mid-1990s, Chinese discourses on democracy have assumed more complicated dimensions with accelerated capitalist developments, deepened social stratification, and the replacement of students and intellectuals by disenfranchised workers, peasants, and Falun Gong practitioners as the main forces of social contestation. Many regime protesters no longer appeal to the liberal democratic discourse. Some reformers, meanwhile, embrace liberal democracy as a means of popular containment. Today, China's state-controlled and commercialised media are deeply embedded in the established market authoritarian social order. While the Party makes every effort to prevent horizontal communication between disenfranchised groups and established intellectuals confine their debates to elite journals and cyberspaces, the role of Chinese workers and peasants and their voices remain a key problematic for media and democratisation in China.
This article takes issue with the widespread belief that capitalist development and material prosperity produce a middle class political culture that spells the end for dictatorial regimes and leads necessarily to liberal democracy. The case of Singapore, which is a very prosperous and highly developed capitalist economy with a large middle class, but whose government undoubtedly retains a strong authoritarian element, demonstrates that the link between capitalism and democracy is not at all automatic. The Progressive Action Party (PAP), which has since independence formed the government of Singapore, has successfully avoided the path to liberal democracy through its deployment of a discourse of "Asian Values" (AV). The article makes extensive use of the concept of hegemony, derived form the work of Antonio Gramsci. The PAP has secured its hegemony through the use of discourses of "Asian Capitalism" and "Asian Democracy." Because of their function in de-legitimising potential sources of counter-capitalistic contradictions and counter-authoritarian dissent, "Asian Values" enables the re-amalgamation, and even strengthens the mutual dependency, of authoritarianism and late-capitalism in Singapore. This article traces the evolution and inner structure of Asian Values discourses and uses the results of extensive fieldwork to demonstrate how this discourse has succeeded both in surviving the economic problems of the late 1990s and in marginalising alternative and oppositional opinions.
This article examines the basis for continued government control over the mass media in Malaysia, even though many of the main outlets are privately owned. The peculiar features of the Malay polity, with its official policies of assistance for Malays, as opposed to people of Chinese and Indian origin, is outlined as an essential background to understanding the mechanisms of media control. In the press, the combination of political party ownership of the main publications, and extremely stringent licensing conditions mean that alternative voices struggle to gain a hearing. In the case of broadcasting, a strong state sector is complemented by commercial companies that are owned by associates of the ruling party. The Internet has provided more problems for the government. Despite the fact that the main local ISP collaborates very closely with the government in tracking activity on the web, and the fact that there have been cases of persecution directly following from this surveillance, oppositional forces have had some online successes. Alongside the web of ownership, the government also has a battery of legal measures that it uses to control the media. Both press and broadcasting must be licensed, and this power is held by ministers who do not have to give any reason if they decide to revoke a permit. Most repressive of all is the Internal Security Act, bequeathed by the British and still in active use today. One measure of how effective these levers of control are is the performance of the media in elections, where they systematically foreground and praise the ruling party while denigrating or ignoring oppositional parties.
This paper discusses the struggle for the democratisation of the broadcast media in the context of the social and political reform in Thailand during 1997-2000. A new law to set up an independent regulatory body was enacted in March 2000. The gist of the legislation is to restructure state ownership of the broadcasting media and to re-allocate them into three categories of ownership. These are state, commercial and community licenses. The unprecedented change in the law came about after Article 40 of the 1997 Constitution stipulated that radio spectrum for radio and television transmission and radio communications are national resources to be used for public interests. Although the new Constitution has effectively brought about legal reform in the media law the actual process of structural and institutional transformation have yet to take shape. There are indications that the state agencies owning radio and television stations are against the re-structuring of their ownership rights. On the other hand, large private media operators are eager to become the new player in the industry at all costs. Allying themselves with the influential state agencies they stepped in together to control the selection process of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). This leaves the community sector, whose right has been guaranteed by law, in a perilous and exposed position. The liberalising process will bring about a further privatisation of radio and television, since the new commercial licenses are expected to transfer state ownership right or state property into private property. In addition, the television and radio stations operated by the state agencies will be commercialised.
The popular mobilisation that led to the downfall of President Estrada in January 2001 was facilitated by the use of new communication technologies, notably text messaging on mobile phones and the establishment of web sites. Public awareness of political developments, fostered by these means and by independent media, eventually forced the main mass media to cover Estrada's impeachment trial, and it was the threat of the collapse of that trial that provoked mass demonstrations. These events illustrate some leading themes in the history of the Philippine's mass media. Newspapers, radio and television have long been privately owned, and have developed into very market-oriented media. Most of the time, they are devoted to tabloid and sensational reporting, and they are mostly closely connected with large and diversified corporations. After a long period of repression by Ferdinand Marcos, his overthrow saw an explosion of genuinely independent media, although issues of ownership and traditions of bribing journalists put limits on what got reported. Estrada attempted to control the media more directly, particularly through systematic bribery, threatening the businesses of media owners with tax audits, and manipulating advertising. For some time, he was successful, but as public awareness of his crimes grew, so audiences demanded better mainstream coverage. The media were forced by their audiences to adopt a much more critical stance, and this opened the way for independent journalism.