Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

Archive for March, 2013

Voices in Exile: Panoptic Perspectives

Posted in Ethnic Korean Diaspora: North Korean re-migration on March 26th, 2013

Director Park talks to SBS (Photo credit: vanessa Danielson)

Markus Bell, The Australian National University.

March 22nd marked the final evening of the film event Voices in Exile: Panoptic Perspectives. This event, three months in the making, was the brain-child of Professor Kyungmook Kim of Chukyo university, Japan. Organized by Professor Kim, postgraduate students from the Australian National University and Sydney University, the purpose of the event was to offer the public new ways of understanding a complex and oft-misunderstood subject – North Korea.

Over three nights, in ANU and Sydney venues, audiences were treated to four different films –A Schoolgirl’s Diary, Yodok Stories, The Journal of Musan and Under a Different Sky. The highlight of each evening was undoubtedly the chance for discussion with experts in the field of North Korean studies and Mr. Jungbum Park, the director of the award-winning film The Journal of Musan. In an interview with ANU PhD candidate, Markus Bell, Mr. Park explained:

In The Journal of Musan I tried to depict the hardships faced by many North Koreans in South Korea. The feeling of being a frog trapped at the bottom of a well and the inevitable isolation that many of these individuals suffer from.

Honestly, when I was making this film I was on a very tight budget and focused on creating something that would make an impact on a domestic [Korean] audience. It is a film that depicts poverty and loneliness, but it also is a film of hope, showing that for these people [from North Korea] anything is possible.

In terms of North Koreans living in South Korea, their backgrounds are so different and they are also very different from South Koreans. For a new arrival in South Korea, a period of up to ten years is required for adaptation, during which time education and the acquisition of practical skills is required to ensure effective resettlement in their new home.

Ultimately, this film is about people who are on the margins, who are suffering. North Koreans are not unique in these experiences; handicapped people, minorities and the laboring classes are also people who share in a story of struggle. I hope this movie is understood by the audience as a humanistic film, depicting the confrontation between weak and strong.


Audiences that totaled over 230 people over the three nights were highly receptive to the films screened and Mr. Park’s message of hope, donating over $1600 to the development of the North Korean Transmigration Supporting Association. This NPO, created by Professor Kim and members of the Korean community in Sydney, aims to bring several North Korean migrants living in Seoul, to Sydney to give them the chance to study English. With the first such student already arrived, it seems the grassroots movement for supporting North Koreans is alive and well in Australia. 

Voices in Exile: Panoptic Perspectives, would not have been possible without support from the ANU Korea Institute, The Toyota Foundation, UTS:CCS and the North Korean Transmigration Supporting Association. With any luck, this will be just the first of many such successful collaborations.

Depression And Anxiety Could Be Fukushima’s Lasting Legacy

Posted in Japan, News on March 12th, 2013

See here for the original story.

by Geoff Brumfiel, March 11, 2013 4:40 AM, National Public Radio Morning Edition.

Two years ago today, an earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people living near the plant were forced to flee. The World Health Organization recently predicted a very small rise in cancer risk from radioactive material that was released. For the nuclear refugees, though, anxiety and depression could be the more persistent hazard. Correspondent Geoff Brumfiel traveled to Fukushima prefecture and met victims of the accident to see how they are coping. He sent Shots this report.

The Togawa family in their temporary home near Kawamata, Japan. From left: Rina, Kenichi, Kae, Yuka and Shoichiro. 

The Togawa family in their temporary home near Kawamata, Japan. From left: Rina, Kenichi, Kae, Yuka and Shoichiro. Geoff Brumfiel/NPR

March 11, 2011, is a day that Kenichi Togawa will never forget. He was taking a break from his job at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant when the ground started to shake. “The earthquake was very big, and also very long,” he says. It scattered desks like Lego bricks and brought down ceiling paneling.

After making sure co-workers were accounted for, Kenichi, like other nonessential workers at the plant, headed for home to check on his family. The Togawas lived in the seaside village of Namie, about six miles from the reactors. Kenichi left work by car, but he soon abandoned it. A tsunami sparked by the earthquake had wiped out roads near the coast, and those that remained were clogged with people hurrying home. He walked for miles, all the while unsure whether his wife and three children were OK.

He felt “a huge relief,” he says, when he arrived home to find his family safe. But the Togawas’ troubles were just beginning. After a fitful night, sleeping together in their living room, they were awakened in the early morning by a siren, warning them to evacuate. When Kenichi went out to recover his abandoned car, he was greeted by soldiers in gas masks. The family threw what they could into the car and fled.

Hours later, the Unit One reactor at the nuclear plant exploded, spreading radioactivity across Fukushima. The Togawas will likely never be able to live in their old home again.

Kae Togawa, 9, must wear a radiation badge whenever she leaves the house. 


Kae Togawa, 9, must wear a radiation badge whenever she leaves the house. Geoff Brumfiel/NPR

At first they lived in a gymnasium in Kawamata town, about 30 miles away. For months, they slept in an open room with many other families and shared shower facilities and eating areas. People cut in line to get food, and others got angry when the kids played too loudly. “We were just like dogs and cats without chains,” says Yuka, Kenichi’s wife.

That was tough, but their current situation isn’t much better. All five family members live in a tiny, temporary house that’s roughly 300 square feet. Sixteen-year-old Rina says she often has arguments with her younger siblings, especially when they’re settling down to sleep at night. “[The room’s] just so small, we hit each other by mistake,” she says.

Yuka is grateful to have a roof over her family’s head, but she doesn’t think of it as a home. “This is temporary,” she says. “We leave our house in the morning and we come home and it’s temporary. It’s like floating in the air.” She worries about her children. For now they are healthy, but she fears they may become sick from radiation exposure.

A monitor in Fukushima City shows elevated radiation levels nearly two years after the accident. 
A monitor in Fukushima City shows elevated radiation levels nearly two years after the accident. Geoff Brumfiel/NPR
Kenichi is also having a tough time. He is more isolated now than he was before the accident. He spends hours each day playing video games. He has put on weight and drinks more than he used to. Other evacuees are doing worse. Many don’t have jobs, and some have taken up drinking and gambling, according to Hiromi Yamamoto, an English teacher from Namie who fled to nearby Iwake City.

Public health officials believe that the stress and isolation the nuclear accident has caused may be more dangerous than the radiation itself. Big disasters are very difficult to recover from, says Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School who has studied the emotional fallout from Hurricane Katrina. Over the course of years, mental health problems can get worse and worse. “If it’s something that goes on for a long, long time as Katrina did, that’s where you get into trouble,” he says. “The Japanese situation looks like it might be a similar sort of thing.”

Fortunately, life seems to slowly be getting easier for the Togawas. Kenichi has a new job, and the kids like their school. Yuka is working part time as a nurse. But what comes next for the family is far from clear. “When I think about just today, I can stay happy,” Kenichi says. “But when I think about the day after tomorrow and my future, I feel like I’m in a pitch-black box.”

Picture of the month – March: West Papua

Posted in Articles, News, Pacific, Southeast Asia, This month's photo on March 10th, 2013

Police arrest a Papuan pro-separatist demonstrator in Jayapura on March 22, 2010 © AFP PHOTO / BANJIR AMBARITA

Police arrest a Papuan pro-separatist demonstrator in Jayapura on March 22, 2010.


The integration of mainstream and social media creates a more responsive news cycle

Posted in Articles, Southeast Asia on March 10th, 2013

See here for the original article.

The integration of mainstream and social media creates a more responsive news cycle

Ross Tapsell

tapsell1Media convergence makes it easy for Indonesian Facebook users to comment on and share mainstream media articles, Adhi Kusumo

Social media is perceived as playing a crucial role in political activism in Indonesia, mostly because of the growing number of Facebook and Twitter users in the country. The latest figures suggest that there are 43 million Facebook users in Indonesia, the second-largest number in any country in the world. The role of social media in distributing information means that devices such as the Blackberry are crucial for political activists, like those who used Facebook to publicise the ‘cicak versus buaya’  storm and the Prita Mulyasari case.  But a key reason why these particular issues became media ‘mega-spectacles’ was because they were taken up by mainstream media.


Mainstream media still plays an important role in distributing activists’ messages to the public, despite the increase in social media usage. On most occasions, activists like to see wide-ranging media coverage of their causes not only because mainstream media reports reach a wider audience, but also because of the authority that they afford certain issues. Mainstream media reports can give the concerns pursued by activists greater legitimacy, particularly if they make news headlines and become the daily news ‘event’.

In Indonesia today, the largely separate realms of social media and mainstream media are fast becoming connected into one large news cycle as a result of two forms of media convergence: the convergence of traditional media and new social media platforms, and the convergence of monopolised media and smaller forms of alternative, grassroots or citizen-directed media. This pattern means social media is now an important part of how ‘events’ become news. It also gives activists greater ability to get their issue into the news cycle via easily accessible social media platforms. But there is also the risk that news distribution through social media will soon be engulfed by the powerful forces who own and control the mainstream media.

Cartelisation and convergence

The mainstream media in Indonesia is owned by a small group of prominent businessmen and politicians. It has been described as a ‘cartel’. Today, twelve media groups control all of the national commercial television shares. These groups also own five of the six newspapers with the highest circulation and all of the four most popular online news media. Increasing cartelisation continued into late 2011 when Indonesia’s biggest online news media site,, was purchased for $AU66 million by Chairul Tanjung, the owner of television stations Trans7 and TransTV. These companies also have business interests outside of the media. For example, Globe Media is owned by James Riady, owner and Deputy Chairman of Lippo Group, which is the largest property owner and developer in Indonesia and has business interests in banking, publishing and retail.

A key challenge faced by Indonesia’s media moguls is the uncertainty surrounding the future of media, particularly print media. According to media executive, John Riady (son of businessman James Riady), ‘There is decreasing circulation of newspapers in Indonesia. The future of newspapers is as bleak as it is in the US or Australia. Indonesia is just slow to react, and soon it will be all online and very different. But there will always be a market for news, but in what platform we will see in the future.’ A recent Roy Morgan poll shows that television is the most popular medium for Indonesian audiences with 99 per cent having watched ‘any television station in the past 7 days’ compared with 26 per cent of respondents reading ‘any newspaper in the last 7 days’. But Roy Morgan’s Debnath Guharoy wrote recently in The Jakarta Post that it is the internet is ‘where the action is. Where the innovation is focused. In the not too distant future the reality of convergence will make all moving pictures and sound, whether TV or internet sources, one and the same thing.’

Indonesia has already moved to an era where major media companies no longer specialise solely in print, radio or television. Indonesian media executives like Riady understand that their survival is dependent on their ability to combine traditional news content with content from new media platforms and sites, including social media commentaries and amateur videos captured from mobile phones. While they previously thought Facebook and Twitter were purely for ‘social’ purposes, they now consider these tools to be essential in the dissemination of news and commentaries.

The arrival of new platforms such as the iPad and the iPhone has forced media companies to diversify. Globe Media, for example, was transformed in late 2011 into Berita Satu Media Holdings to ‘better reflect the wide range of news brands it owns across multiple languages, multiple platforms and multiple news cycles’. The company’s media convergence includes broadcast, print, digital, online, social and mobile media, events and an online news portal with live streaming, mobile phone applications and a high-definition television channel that it plans to launch nationwide in late 2012.

Another company, Media Indonesia Group, which along with MetroTV is owned by Surya Paloh, who established his own political party (the National Democrats) after he lost the Golkar Chairmanship to media mogul rival Aburizal Bakrie in 2009. Media Indonesia Group has been particularly innovative in the area of convergent media. Its daily news and monthly magazines are available through iPads and can be purchased through iTunes. News is distributed not only in print, but through photo slideshows, video, audio or even interactive graphics. The newspaper, Media Indonesia, has an e-newspaper and website where readers can share the paper’s news stories through various social media and other links. Media Indonesia Chief Editor Saur Hutabarat explained in 2010 that the company is advocating for more open debate in Indonesian society, fuelled by social media: ‘We are creating public debate. People can give their view on all topics and we give space for that view so they can freely express their thinking. The better way to solve our hidden problems is to try to discuss them in an open and transparent way.’

Increasing public debate

As Hutabarat’s comments suggest, media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. New media platforms are helping push journalism in new directions and have the potential to open the space for public debate on social and political issues. On online news sites, readers can comment directly underneath articles. In the online edition of some newspapers, readers can comment via their Facebook profile. In the past, readers usually commented using an online alias name, for example ‘brandy283’. Now, Facebook profiles normally include a photo and various other information or affiliations. The result is a more ‘accountable’ commentary in the mainstream press, but also an indication that many Indonesians are happy to be more public in their opinions through mainstream news.

The transformation from print media to media convergence has been particularly stark for Kompas, Indonesia’s widest selling newspaper, which has a reputation for being cautious when discussing politics and religion. Although this reputation was founded during the Suharto era, in the post-New Order period many inside Kompas still believed that responsible journalism meant toning down reports on contentious topics such as race or ethnicity. But social and new media platforms are transforming this practice. Kompas Chief Editor, Rikard Bagun, believes that modifications are essential because the Indonesian audience was changing as a result of the introduction of social and new media platforms, noting that ‘We now have a very open society, where everybody is declaring criticism openly – through social media for example’. In response, Kompas is slowly altering its reporting philosophy. Bagun argues: ‘If the media doesn’t speak out about things, it is difficult to solve the issues.’

The kompasiana website allows users to produce content in the form of text, images and video

As part of its reinvention, the Kompas group created kompasiana, a medium somewhere between blogging and citizen journalism, which allows users to produce content in the form of text, images and video. It is promoted in Indonesia as another attempt at media convergence. It incorporates print, internet, television and radio news, online and social media commentary including blogs and microblogs as well as social media sites Facebook and Friendster. In addition, photos can be uploaded through Flickr and twitpic and videos through YouTube. It claims to already have 2.8 million visitors per month.

Through initiatives like kompasiana, views and events discussed on social media that gain enough popular momentum are more likely to be viewed by the mainstream media consumer, providing an avenue for political activists to increase their visibility. However, some political activists fear that the diversity of viewpoints that currently characterises social media could decrease as the ownership ‘cartel’ gains increased control over the social media agenda. In some instances this seems to be occurring. For example, activists who campaigned for greater compensation for those displaced by the Lapindo mudflow on the outskirts of Surabaya could not get their viewpoint published in the Surabaya Post. This was because the daily newspaper was purchased in 2008 by the Bakrie group in 2008, whose subsidiary company, Lapindo-Brantas, was seen as responsible for the mudflow.

A market for free expression

As John Riady said, there will always be a market for news. But it is still unclear how this market will evolve. In the lead up to the 2014 Presidential election, media owners with political ambitions may attempt to control the information placed on their now increasingly convergent media networks. However, the rapid and complex ways in which media convergence is transforming Indonesian news and commentary makes controlling such information more difficult. The more voices and platforms through which people can express opinions and disseminate content, the more difficult it may be for elites to control the agenda.

As events around the world have shown, citizen journalism has found ways to circumvent attempts at censorship and control. Since Reformasi, Indonesians have become used to expressing their opinions online. Should media cartels attempt to hinder freedom of expression through cartelisation and convergence, they may be in for a fight. And in the battle for the Indonesian media market, the convergent media company whose business model allows for the greatest freedom of expression, may end up being the company which makes the most money.

Ross Tapsell ( is a lecturer in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. He researches press freedom in Southeast Asia.

Challenges of racism in Japan

Posted in Articles, Japan, Korea, News on March 10th, 2013

These articles express the challenges of racism in Japan, but also highlight the difficulties faced by the many Japanese who are trying to combat these misunderstandings and attitudes.

Mr. Norman-Mikine Desaki, a Japanese American who worked as an English language teacher in Itoman City in Okinawa Prefecture has produced two videos on his experiences and concerns regarding racism in Japan among his students.

Video One: Racism in Japan

Video Two: Racism in Japan Part Two

See also an article in the Washington Post looking discussing this issue.

韓国の元慰安婦に「殺せ」の郵便物 日本のバンドからか

Posted in Articles, Japan, News on March 10th, 2013

韓国の元慰安婦に「殺せ」の郵便物 日本のバンドからか

See here for the original article.

Help two men detained and feared tortured in Papua province

Posted in Articles, News, Pacific, Southeast Asia on March 10th, 2013

Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap are currently detained at the Jayapura district police station in Papua province. Police officers allegedly tortured them and five other men during interrogation about the whereabouts of two pro-independence activists. They have not received medical treatment and they have not had access to a lawyer since their arrest.

According to credible sources, plainclothes police officers arbitrarily arrested Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap on 15 February 2013 in Depapre, along with five other men. They were then forced to strip, were kicked in the face, head and back, and beaten with rattan sticks and wooden blocks. Police officers allegedly pressed the barrels of their guns to their heads, mouth and ears. They were interrogated until late at night and the morning of the following day.

On 16 February, five of the men were released without charge but Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap remain in police custody and are reportedly to be charged with “possession of a sharp weapon” under the Emergency Regulation 12/1951.

Demand Daniel and Matan receive medical treatment, lawyers and have their torture claims investigated. Go here to take action on Amnesty’s website.


Reporters Without Borders Documents the RISING TIDE OF MEDIA REPRESSION IN OUR REGION

Posted in Articles, News on March 10th, 2013

Reporters Without Borders’ newly released 2013 Press Freedom Index highlights alarming increases in suppression of freedom of speech in our region. North Korea continues to languish at the bottom of the table, and China is little higher, at no. 174 out of 179. Burma has risen from 169 to 151, but Malaysia has fallen to its lowest ever position because of restrictions on access to information. Japan’s position has fallen more sharply than that of any other Asian country (from 22 to 53) because of  “a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima”. As Reporters without Borders notes “This sharp fall should sound an alarm”. For the full Index, click here.