IPS – Inter Press Service News Agency
August 6th, 2013

ASEAN Studies Centre’s Rodolfo Severino with IPS Asia-Pacific’s Son at right. Credit: IPS.

SINGAPORE, Jul 30 (IPS Asia-Pacific) – Stories about the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) aren’t always about sexy topics that make the headlines or interest young journalists, posing a challenge as to how to have more in-depth reportage of social and development issues that the regional organisation is taking on with the onset of the ASEAN Community in 2015.

These views stood out at a Jul. 25 panel discussion here called ‘Telling the ASEAN Story’, which focused on media coverage of South-east Asia’s premier regional grouping. The discussion provided a forum to launch the book ‘Reporting Development in ASEAN’, published by IPS Asia-Pacific as part of a media and research programme on writing in-depth on development issues in ASEAN.

“How can development reporting compete with the sexy subjects?” asked Rodolfo Severino, head of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), where the launch was held and jointly organised by IPS Asia-Pacific and ASC. “Who decides what are important for the readers to read?”

At the same time, there is need to go beyond ASEAN high-profile events to dig for news and develop more stories that are “bread and butter issues linked to our everyday lives”, added Moe Thuzar, lead researcher of socio-cultural affairs at the ASEAN Studies Centre who moderated the discussion.

“Issues that affect our everyday lives are impacted by decisions made and taken by prime ministers, officials, presidents, ministers… all the way down the line but sometimes we in ASEAN countries are not even aware of how certain decisions are (implemented),” Moe added.

Participants, a mix of professors, researchers and media, at the book launch. Credit: IPS.

Participants, a mix of professors, researchers and media, at the book launch. Credit: IPS.

They shared their views after IPS Asia-Pacific regional director Johanna Son presented the highlights of the book, in particular the findings of a content analysis study that looked into how 19 newspapers in ASEAN report on ASEAN.

The usual story about ASEAN reported by newspapers in the region is about political or economic issues, heavily quotes officials and diplomats much more than civil society or ordinary citizens, is usually in spot news format rather than analyses or in-depth reports, and doesn’t use many visuals, she pointed out.

“Very few quotes in the stories are from the civil society and are skewed towards officials’ voices, largely because reportages are around ASEAN events and the perceived sources are from ‘big people’ as defined by the journalists,” said Son, also the editor of the book.

Achara Ashayagachat, a senior writer for the ‘Bangkok Post’ who covers ASEAN, says a lot of the reportage about ASEAN tends to be inward-looking.

“We lack a common sense of community and ownership to move forward and knowledge about our neighbouring countries that creates inter-linkages of different socio-economical issues,” said Achara.

“At times, media are helpful for pressing issues like crime scenes or tragedies, but seldom do they dig into the root causes of problems,” she said. Often, too, she said, while some problems might be discussed in ASEAN officials’ discussions, when the ‘noise’ about these subsides, so does the agenda.

Severino also pointed out media in ASEAN countries’ “overdependence on wire stories (on ASEAN), which are invariably written from western or other viewpoints”. This is usually the case especially in international media reports about ASEAN events and summits.

Suggestions for further research included expanding content analysis work beyond newspapers, and going into broadcast and online media or even radio.

But the book ‘Reporting Development on ASEAN’, which also contains in-depth reporting by local writers on social and development issues from migration to illegal fishing, “gives a very good flavour of ASEAN reportage,” said Severino.

“It is very important for us to scour whatever information we can get, especially about reportage from the media. A study like this is very important because it shows the challenges that media face, and their preferences,” said Dr Mely Caballero-Anthony, associate professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“There is more space for in-depth reportage of ASEAN’s relevance to the region that is needed, and maybe also a re-definition of what makes for ASEAN news in the papers, and going beyond the agenda set by the state,” Son explained.

Added Severino: “We need better understanding of how (ASEAN) events affect ordinary people, and this requires greater knowledge about what is happening currently in the region.

*For inquiries about the book, please write to

   *This story can also be read at





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