Investigative journalists from across Asia say they are attempting to establish cooperation in order to improve coverage of cross-border issues ranging from human trafficking, land rights, corruption and the environment.
Recently, the Washington, D.C.-based Global Investigative Journalism Network brought together nearly 900 reporters from more than 120 countries to the city of Lillehammer, Norway, for a conference on investigative journalism. Attendees shared their experiences and skills, and talked about the challenges they face in their work.
Several reporters from Asian countries attending the event said that a lack of cross-border cooperation between journalists in the region was limiting the media’s ability to hold businesses and governments to account. They proposed building more links through social media in order to help journalists from different countries to work together.
Swe Win, an investigative reporter at the Yangon-based news agency Myanmar Now, said that reporters in his country face difficulties when trying to report on issues that reach over state borders. Myanmar’s media was restricted by government censorship until 2012, and limits on press freedom persist, meaning the country’s journalists are still getting to grips with the idea of investigative reporting.
Swe Win said Myanmar’s journalists were ill prepared to report on the cross-border issues that will likely arise when a process of regional economic integration begins within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the end of this year. Most journalists in the region do not cooperate with other reporters across borders, he said.
Human trafficking between states—which saw thousands of refugees and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh stranded in the Andaman Sea earlier this year—is particularly difficult to cover from within one country. And since Myanmar shares long land borders with five countries, including China and India, many stories have an international aspect.
“We have not been able to touch all these issues, but I think if we have regional cooperation in Asia and particularly in Southeast Asia, then we’ll be in a proper position to do these stories,” he said.
Additionally, Swe Win said, Southeast Asian reporters face difficulties dealing with the bureaucracies in neighboring countries, which often they have never visited.
“It is very difficult to penetrate into the bureaucratic world. In every Southeast Asian country, our bureaucratic world is very, very strong, so it is very difficult to get information,” he said.
Yoichiro Tateiwa, a reporter for Japanese public broadcaster NHK World, said cooperating with journalists in countries in which Japanese companies are doing business could help to uncover unscrupulous business practices.
“Even if something happens in Singapore, there might be something that could be happening related to Cambodia or related to South Korea or related to Japan,” he said.
“What we can do is that for each and every case where we raise the issue of what’s happening in Singapore, we can check in every country with all the investigative reporters.”
Despite the potential for cooperation to help hold companies and governments to account, Yoichiro said he had so far not encountered cross-border cooperation between Asian journalists in his 25-year career.
“All these companies and even the politicians, they’re making a lot of money out of those businesses that take place worldwide, so there is a limit to what I can do by myself,” he said, adding that online social media would make regional cooperation between reporters easy and inexpensive.
“If there is somebody, some partner outside Japan ready to exchange information, we could create a new system or network.”
Citra Dyah Prastuti, program director at Indonesian radio network KBR, said that her organization has just started a program to connect with other journalists in the region.
“We have stringers across Asia and in upcoming training we’re trying to do cross-border stories,” she said. “We connect journalists from different areas and ask them if they want to do some stories together. We have come up with some good ideas between Vietnam and Indonesia; we’ll have a labor story. And between Pakistan and India; they will do some stories together as well.”
Journalists from different countries could also learn from the way reporters in other countries report the same kinds of stories, Citra Dyah Prastuti added.
“A similar issue between Cambodia and Indonesia might be environmental activists, because you have many cases of environment activists being killed [in Cambodia], and we have some cases about that issue [in Indonesia],” she said. “So we might do something about that. Like a cross-border story from the environmental aspect.”
Tan Hui Yee, Thailand correspondent for the Singaporean newspaper The Straits Times, said she attended the conference in Norway in order to meet new potential partners for cross-border reporting. A spirit of information exchange was vital for journalists in Southeast Asia, she said.
"When I meet someone who wants some help on Thailand, I freely give information because I think it’s good to pass it on,” she said.