EngageMedia Blog

COCONET: Call for Applications

by EM News November 07, 2017

Coconet Logo

When: 22-26 October 2017
Where: Bali or Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Deadline: 10 August 2017

EngageMedia, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), are pleased to announce a call for applications to COCONET: Southeast Asia Digital Rights Camp.

COCONET (Connecting Communities & Networks) aims to enhance regional networking, popularise digital rights issues, and expand digital rights campaigns and movements by connecting policy advocates, researchers, digital campaigners, media-makers, and technologists.

COCONET is a peer-based event where everyone will participate: bringing knowledge, experiences, and skills to share.

A full description of the event can be read here.

Who can participate?

We're looking to gather 75-100 participants for the camp. Whilst Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), is the key target, the event is also open to participants from other parts of Asia and the Pacific. Please note that scholarship support will prioritise applicants from Southeast Asia.

The following are highly encouraged to apply:

  • Activists working with grassroots communities with strong experience in using digital platforms
  • Activist technologists, open source advocates and digital security trainers
  • Internet Rights policy advocates
  • Researchers and academics
  • Social change media-makers including film-makers, journalists, bloggers, photographers, designers, and artists.

Applications are now closed.

Featured Filmmaker: Jason Soo

by EM News November 23, 2017
We interview Jason Soo, a filmmaker from Singapore whose work highlights activists and activism over the course of its history.

1. Tell us who you are as a filmmaker and how you began your career as one. What first attracted you to work with documentary film?

I studied visual arts but cinema is my first love, so to speak. Then it also became clear to me that in Singapore, art remains a relatively elitist activity, while cinema is the mass medium of choice. I try not to make a distinction between fiction and documentary. A documentary film is a fictional construct. And there’s as much truth in fiction films as in documentaries. You could also say that truth is an effect of fabrication.

2. Can you tell us about some of your more notable films?

The film I’m currently working on has a 54-minute version that was awarded Best Southeast Asian Feature at Freedom Film Festival back in 2015. It’s based on the arrests of 22 people by Singapore’s Internal Security Department in 1987. The detainees were accused of being involved in a Marxist conspiracy, physically and psychologically tortured, and then coerced into making public confessions.

3. Which would you say is your favorite, among the films you've made? What is the background to its story?

It’s not exactly a favorite, as you’ll see why, but back in 2014, I was asked to make a short film to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the May 13th, 1954 student movement in Singapore. On May 13, about 1,000 middle school students had gathered at the foot of Fort Canning Hill. They were there to support a student delegation that was calling for a postponement of compulsory military conscription. The student delegation was scheduled to meet with the British governor at the Istana (Presidential Palace) nearby. Unfortunately, riot police was called in and around 30 students were injured.

However, the short film dramatizes not the events of May 13, but the subsequent student occupation of Chinese High School a few weeks later in June. In these three extraordinary weeks, the students not only took over the school but organized themselves for communal living. To do this, they set up groups and committees to take charge of matters such as academic studies, recreation, art, food, laundry, sanitation, medicine, security, public relations, etc.

The student occupation exemplifies to me the collective spirit of the May 13 generation. The events of May and June 1954 went on to serve as a catalyst for the anti-colonial struggle that ultimately set Singapore on its road to independence. That such an unprecedented historical episode has been falsified or whitewashed from our school textbooks is a travesty.

I have to say though, that the short film was hastily made in the space of two months and, in my opinion, does not express adequately the complexities of that period. But it’s such an important event that I plan to turn it into a feature film in future.

4. What have you learned through the process of making films?

What I’ll like to say here is a quote from Sokurov’s Moscow Elegy: “It's cinema that makes use of you, not vice versa. I think one's got to learn how to serve film, not to be its victim. It makes use of you, not vice versa.”

5. What are the challenges for you working in Singapore, especially with its current social-political situation?

If I had to isolate a single concrete challenge or obstacle, I would say that it has to be the absence of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The FOIA is crucial not just for documentary filmmakers but for every citizen. Because without equal access to proper information, how are we equipped to make decisions that affect all aspects of our lives – from housing, food, health, business, arts, education, etc.?

A FOIA is a fundamental pillar of any true democracy. With a proper FOIA, researchers would have much needed information for informed analysis, and citizens would be able to scrutinize how government policies are decided. Imagine being able to read the minutes, or watch a live telecast of policy meetings at government ministries. That is when we would have taken a real step towards transparency and accountability.

6. How does online distribution help your work, and what are your thoughts on online and offline distribution?

I’m still trying to figure out this aspect of being an independent filmmaker. My strategy now is this: I try to focus my energies on making the film. The other aspects, I try to do as little as possible but enough to get the ball over the line.

7. Do you believe that films can change society?

I would like to say “Yes, otherwise, what’s the point?”  But in a situation like Singapore, real change, which is change in terms of what’s inside people’s heads, that may not happen overnight, or even in 5-10 years. It may not even happen in my lifetime.

On the other hand, there’s a real urgency that change is needed. Just to cite an example taken from the economy: as ex-GIC chief economist Yeoh Lam Keong has mentioned, up to 500,000 people live in poverty in Singapore [out of a population of about 5.5 million] and the weakness of labour laws perpetuate the exploitation of even more low wage migrant workers.

8. What are you working on now and what do you have planned for the future?

Besides the projects already mentioned, I’m developing a film based on contemporary activism in Singapore.

Find out more about Jason's work at the 'Untracing the Conspiracy' project site.

Featured Filmmaker: The Isaan Record

by EM News November 07, 2017
We speak with The Isaan Record, a media and video production organization in Northeastern Thailand about their hopes and challenges.

Tell us about the people behind The Isaan Record. How did you start out?

The Isaan Record is an online news magazine that tells the stories of Northeastern Thailand. Over the past six years, our small team of Thai and foreign journalists has published a wide range of news and feature stories, as well as number of short video documentaries.

We are committed to delivering well-balanced stories with a focus mainly on human rights, democracy, development issues, and local politics in the Northeast of Thailand. We believe that a well-informed public is the foundation of a healthy democracy.

Most of our stories are translated and published in both Thai and English. Recently, we have begun publishing articles in the local dialect, setting an unprecedented example in Thai media.

Why did you choose to work with documentary films and what first attracted you to it?

We have been producing short documentary films since the early days in 2011 when The Isaan Record was just starting off. Although our current team of in-house journalists focuses on written news and features stories, we regularly invite documentary filmmakers to contribute short pieces. We want to provide a platform for young video journalist to present their work to an online audience.

In the past, the Northeast had a tradition of mobile cinemas and we recently started discussing the idea to bring documentary films about the Northeast to an audience in rural areas of the region.

What is your favourite film among those you’ve worked on and what is the background to that story?

Fields of Mine is one our favourites. It tells the story a rural community in the beautiful mountains of the Upper Northeast that is fighting against a gold mine project. On the one hand, Na Nong Bong Village is a fascinating example of community-based activism with a strong female involvement. On the other hand, the case represents many of the grievances faced by villages in the Northeast today including the exploitation of the region's natural resources by private companies and the state, the use of violence and legal mechanisms to suppress dissent, and the lack of public participation in development projects. The film is one of our very first documentary pieces, produced by Glenn Brown and Lizzie Presser, who founded The Isaan Record and managed it until 2012.

Another film that has been popular with our audience is The Master Plan, a guest contribution by two American students, Paul Sullivan and Wilder Nicholson. The documentary addresses the long-standing issue of land rights in the Northeast and shows how the military government, that came to power in coup d’état in 2014, has been using deforestation policy as justification to evict forest communities across the region.

What are the challenges for you working in Thailand or Northeast Thailand?

Reporting from the Northeast of Thailand has been a very rewarding experience for our team. For our journalists it often seems easier to gain access to news sources here than in Bangkok. Organisations, government agencies and people are less used to media attention and usually people are forthcoming and easy to talk to.

But we notice that things have been changing since 2014. The military regime not only suspended democracy and rolled back decentralisation that gave more autonomy to the provinces but it also put a lid on all forms of dissent. A climate of fear makes it more difficult to get peoples’ opinion on the record. We used to interview people on the streets on various political topics but these days everyone seems to be much more cautious when speaking out in public.

What are you working on now and what’s your next project?

We are running a three year project to build a journalism network in the region. The Isaan Journalism Network Project is a journalism program that trains northeastern Thais with the skills and capacity needed for rigorous, local citizen journalism.

Thailand’s media landscape is skewed towards Bangkok and tends to represent the interests of the urban middle class. We want to encourage a shift in the Thai media’s focus from one that deals almost exclusively with Bangkok-centric news to one that more meaningfully incorporates the largest and most populous region in the country, the Northeast.

We are also looking into ways to build partnerships with media outlets in other regions in the country, and hope that in the next few years we can be part of a network of progressive, non-Bangkok news organizations that as a whole would present a very different picture of Thailand.

Access more content by The Isaan Record here.

Kali Code Village stands up to the Tobacco Industry

by Kartika Pratiwi April 13, 2017

In February, a collaborative project between EngageMedia and Viral Strategies launched an anti-tobacco campaign in Kampung Kali Code, Yogyakarta. This event was organized by health experts and media campaigners in reaction to the tobacco industry, which exploited the village for their advertisement media without monetary compensation.

A few months ago, a tobacco company painted the village in red, blue, yellow and white for a project called “Show Your Colors”. A conservative analysis by Vital Strategies estimates that the company has enjoyed brand exposure worth more than US$220,000 per month as a result. According to a 2011 survey, Indonesia is the second-largest cigarette market in Asia after China, and has the highest male smoking rate in the world at 67% of the population (Asian Tribune).

“Show Your True Colors” is a counter-campaign against aggressive tobacco marketing by re-painting the village with anti-tobacco, glow-in-the-dark graphic murals, that were designed by graffiti artist Koma. The murals were painted on the walls and rooftops of houses, so that pedestrians on the bridge above of the village can easily view them. This initiative aims to not only raise awareness about healthier environments and the risks of smoking, but also to remove the exploitative tobacco branding in Kali Code.

As part of the community empowerment agenda, activities were not only undertaken by the campaign organizers and artists, but also involved the people of Kali Code. Teenagers from the village participated in a video workshop for three days at EngageMedia, and produced six videos that were screened on the night of the launch event.

Now, Kali Code is showing its true colors – the color of its people, and not of the tobacco company.

Press Freedom Investigation in Papua Highlights Challenges for Local Journalists

by Tara Nissl February 15, 2017

Photograph by WAN-IFRA/Una Sunarti

Eight journalists from eight Indonesian media outlets traveled to West Papua last week to investigate media freedom and the safety of journalists in the region, after an international delegation
called on Indonesia to address press freedom violations in 2015.

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) launched the investigation on January 30 in Jayapura, Merauke and Timika, where the Media Freedom Committee-Indonesia followed local journalists from Papuan news organisations for five days.

WAN-IFRA’s Asian Regional Manager Eko Maryadi said: “We expect the program to send eight reporters from Jakarta, from non-Papuans to do reporting, that they can understand the issues, difficulties, and problems faced by journalists in Papua.”

The Committee reported eight key findings:

  • Government officials and security personnel are discriminatory towards OAPs (“original Papua persons”)
  • Journalists are stigmatised as pro-independence or pro-Homeland, leading to intimidation and fragmentation among the journalist community
  • Environmental damage through development programs are underreported due to heavy restrictions on the press
  • Strengthening journalism in Papua relies on an improved code of ethics, understanding of the journalist profession, use of technology and a business model that maintains the independence of the press
  • Journalists need to actively change the media perspective of Papua
  • 11 out of 16 foreign journalists who recently gained access to Papua were monitored by intelligence officials
  • Sexual harassment of female journalists in Papua is underreported
  • The quality of public services and competition depends on equitable access to communication infrastructure and information technology

More detailed reports were documented on the Committee’s blog, featuring daily updates and interviews with journalists from Tabloid Jubi, Papua Salam, Mongabay.co.id and many more.

Journalists from the Papua South Post shared stories about police and government intimidation, including two publication bans in 2007 and 2008, being threatened with criminal law, and a prohibition on reporting on President Joko Widodo’s Merauke investment program.

A journalist in Timika recalled a terrifying experience of being held at knifepoint and then stabbed. Another pointed to the difficulties faced by female journalists and the prevalence of sexual harassment.

The investigation marks one month before Indonesia will host the World Press Freedom Day in Jakarta on March 3, an honourable hosting position that the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) criticised Indonesia for holding due to ongoing restrictions and violations in Papua.

In July 2016, PFF Chair Titi Gabi urged Jakarta to “ensure that there is open access to West Papua for foreign media, and an end to abuses against local media.”

Whether any changes will be made in the near future is questionable. Just recently, Suara Papua’s website was blocked for SARA and publishing “negative” content, despite the government insisting that it does not censor journalistic websites.

Featured Filmmaker: Bonny Lanny

by EM News April 13, 2017
Bonny Lanny joined Papuan Voices Wamena in 2014 and since then has made several captivating documentaries and an album of unique local songs. Papuan Voices is a video advocacy initiative working with Papuan activists to more effectively tell their stories to the world.

Tell us who you are as a filmmaker and how you began your career?

Before joining Papuan Voices, I made videos in my hometown which were mostly recordings of Christian songs, as well as some indigenous songs. My early works in 2011 were more like video clips, and produced my first documentary only when I joined Papuan Voices in 2014.

My first film was about a report for Forum Masyarakat Jayawijaya on the denouncement of the erection of a military building in Wamena - A movement I was also involved in. I also did photo documentation, shot demonstrations, and the activities of my friends, all of which I put together as a video report.

In the beginning, I made films without any training. I just made them spontaneously, acted based on my own plans. I made them by simply putting content together such as text with photographs. After I joined Papuan Voices, I started to understand the steps needed, such as writing a script beforehand and all sorts of other techniques.

Can you tell us about the video production scene there?

Now, we have so many Papuan children studying outside of this island. But there rarely are any who study music or film. They mostly apply for degrees in Law or Economics, but don't have links to this kind of work. So it's only us (in Papuan Voices) who maybe understand about the situation here. This is why we try to teach our brothers and sisters, based on what we know from our experiences. That is very important.

What do you think about Indonesian audiences in relation to Papuan issues?

On one occasion, I held a screening in University Negeri Jakarta where I played several videos. And I played one film about Freeport (a mining company). At that time, in Papua, many indigenous people held demonstrations about police brutality towards protesters, some of whom had been shot by the police.

After that event, I began to understand that the people in Jakarta don't know anything about the situation in Papua. I mean the real situation. They have the idea that Papua is very rich and all that the people in Papua live in luxury, especially seven tribes which receive yearly donations from Freeport. So they think they must be wealthy, have fancy houses and cars, all those sorts of things.

These mindsets emerged because Freeport broadcasts their own information and only present the good side of things, and ignored all the bad things that happened to ordinary people. But yesterday we had a screening in Bali, and then in Yogyakarta, after which people (Indonesian audiences) began to understand that the situation in Papua is not like what they think it is.

National and local media in Papua are privately owned or owned by the government. We call it "red plate" media because it only publishes beautiful images of Papua. They rarely expose the many failing policies of the government. My films are about these failures, all the lesser known issues, and there are so many. This is so we can expose the failure of their policies in Papua and outsiders can see what's really happening in Papua.

Do you agree that video has the power to persuade and change people?

I think using film is much more suitable for that nowadays because most of the younger generation who are still studying in University, let alone those who don't have any high education or drop out, don't read much. If they've dropped out, they won't read books but they do like watching films. From my analysis, people enjoy watching films about issues and they quickly understand them. Its ability to influence is much more than with reading books. It's much slower with books.

Finally, what's your message to young Papuan artists out there?

In Wamena for example, there are not many people who make their own videos or songs as I have. It's still hard to find this kind of people, so for now I think it will need and go step by step. I produced songs, made them into a DVD, and sell my own music. For most people, even if they can write music, they still need people from outside Papua to help them to record and produce their albums. Everything for the music video, shooting and editing must be done outside Papua.

I've recently watched films that have been produced by young locals. Even though they are still very rough and elementary, it's still progress for youth in Papua. If you compare us with elsewhere, we have a delay of access to information and technology. It's very slow. So to be able to compete with others, we need to go step by step, slowly. If we force it to be quick, it's only going to make things more difficult.

Read more featured filmmaker interviews from the Asia Pacific region here.

Free West Papua Campaign Launches Global Petition for Independence Referendum

by Tara Nissl November 07, 2017

West Papua Referendum Petition

On 24 January 2017, the Free West Papua Campaign launched a global petition on AVAAZ in support of the Westminster Declaration demanding an internationally supervised referendum for West Papua.

A supervised referendum would enable Papuans to vote on independence – a chance that activists claim they were robbed of in the 1969 “Act of Free Choice”, when less than 0.01% of the population were allegedly handpicked and coerced to vote for integration with Indonesia.

In just a few days since its launch, the petition has already garnered 11,611 signatures, passing its initial goal of 10,000 and still accepting more contributions.

The global petition will remain open until August 2017. It will then be carried by the Swim for West Papua Team across 69 kilometres of Lake Geneva and personally handed to António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

West Papua’s struggle for independence gained international attention when seven Pacific Island nations raised the issue of Indonesia’s human rights abuses in Papua to the UN General Assembly in September 2016.

In October, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination initiated an early warning and urgent action procedure, and requested Indonesia to formally respond to allegations of racial violence by mid-November. There are no records of their response.

The Free West Papua Campaign recently launched the hashtags #BackTheSwim and #LetWestPapuaVote on social media.The global petition can be signed here.

Yangon Nights: Film Screenings for Minority Rights

by EM News January 26, 2017

Khaw Than Yangon

After the success of our first indoor screening on 23 October 2016, we decided to host a second indoor screening for the Khaw Than minority rights film series at Phandeeyar. Over 80 people attended the event and the discussion panel with the filmmakers went really well.

Khaw Than Yangon

Then on 30 December 2016, in collaboration with the Yangon Youth Network, we held our final screening at the Kyinmyintaing tea shop, where we showcased a selection from the Khaw Than series including, 'Sound of Silence', 'My Mother is Single', 'A Letter from Civil War' and 'I Wanna Go to School'. The films addressed ethnic, women and children’s rights.

The rustic tea shop was the perfect place to hold our night of documentary screening. Whether sipping on Myanmar tea and samusar, a premium coffee, or a soft drink, the tasty drinks and friendly atmosphere was sure to put our audience at ease.

Khaw Than Yangon

Most of the people at the event felt free to join in and share their thoughts, both before and after the screening. One of the attendees commented, “Screening documentaries in tea shops is really great. You can watch documentaries at home but in this kind of venue, you can discuss your point of view with different people. I think this is the difference between watching a documentary at home and here.”

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata: A Film Review

by Tara Nissl January 31, 2017

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata, the critically acclaimed film about poet-cum-activist Wiji Thukul, premiered last week in 14 cities across Indonesia.

The film depicts the period of Wiji Thukul’s life when he was on the run from Indonesian authorities during the Suharto government’s crackdown on intellectuals and activists in 1996. Thukul was forced to flee from his hometown in Solo, Central Java to Pontianak, Kalimantan for eight months, moving houses and changing names to shield his identity.

In May 1998, when he returned to Java to participate in anti-government protests, Thukul suddenly disappeared. His whereabouts are still unknown today.

Istirahatlah Kata-kata

Before director Yosep Anggi Noen’s film, most people knew about Wiji Thukul because of an infamous line from his poem, “Peringatan” ("Warning”). It was supposedly the most-quoted line of poetry towards the end of Suharto’s regime: “Hanya ada satu kata: lawan!” (There is only one word: fight!”)

However, those expecting an action-packed film in Istirahatlah Kata-Kata will be gravely disappointed. Instead, the film is a quiet and poetic take on Thukul’s days of hiding, and explores the more solemn themes of isolation, loneliness, paranoia and fear. It also portrays the difficulties faced by Thukul’s wife and children, whom he had to leave behind in Solo, and who are continuously interrogated by the police.

These are emotions that anyone can relate to, and that we do not typically associate with grandiose heroes. In this way, Noen has humanised Thukul. The result is a moving film about a poet who touched the lives of millions of Indonesians with simple but compelling words.

“The movie is my attempt to see Wiji Thukul’s spirit, who is able to note down his daily life into powerful words,” Noen said in an interview with the Jakarta Post.

He also said during the premiere in Pontianak that he wanted the movie to “serve as a reminder for the young generation about missing activists.” (Jakarta Post)

Wiji Thukul is one of thirteen activists still missing since 1997-1998. The other activists include Suyat, Yan Afri, Sonny, M. Yusuf, Noval Alkatiri, Dedy Hamdun, Ismail, Bimo Petrus, Abdun Naser, Hendra Hambali, Ucok Siahaan, and Yadin Muhidin (Stop Impunity).

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata has participated in various international and local film festivals, receiving nominations in Germany, Switzerland, Russia and the Philippines. It also won the Golden Hanoman Award at the Jogja Asian Film Festival and 2016 Best Film by Tempo magazine.

Indonesia Blocks Nearly 800,000 Websites Including Suara Papua

by Tara Nissl January 17, 2017

Suara Papua Website

Several days ago, the Indonesian government announced that it had blocked 800,000 websites since December 2016. According to Samuel Abrijani Pangerapan, the director general of Information Application at the Communications and Information Ministry, 90% of these websites contained pornographic or gambling material, while “some were simply spreading hoaxes” (Jakarta Post).

Pangerapan stressed that the government did not block journalistic websites. Journalists must abide by the Law on the Press and register with the Press Council, he argued, and claimed that “journalistic” websites lacking these credentials were therefore lawfully censored (Tempo).

His statement comes just a month after the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) condemned the government’s shutdown of the news website, suarapapua.com, for containing “negative” content.

Suarapapua.com regularly covers human rights violations in West Papua, such as the recent illegal detention of peaceful demonstrators (including a newborn and children aged 4-17 years) who participated in the Trikora protests in December 2016 (Suara Papua).

Activists at LBH Pers are considering taking legal action against President Joko Widodo’s administration for violations against the freedom of press under Article 18 of the 1999 Press Law (Jakarta Post).

According to Pangerapan, the owners of blocked websites can appeal to a control and monitoring body and request for “normalisation” (i.e. the lift of censorship) after meeting certain requirements. However, it is unclear what these requirements demand of websites such as suarapapua.com.

Pangerapan encouraged Indonesian citizens to seek more details at the website http://trustpositif.kominfo.go.id/, which states that the purpose of TRUST+ is the “protection of society against ethical values, morals and rules that do not fit the image of the Indonesian Nation.”

As of 11 January 2017, more than 766,000 websites were blocked for pornography, 2100 for gambling, 85 for radicalism, 23 for SARA (secular sentiment) and 2 for security. There have also been 264 cases of “normalisation”.

Despite the government’s positive spin on TRUST+ and its censorship program, these developments reflect a worrying trend in increased online surveillance (read more: Digital Freedom and Privacy Under Attack in Indonesia). Digital rights, which have gained significant popularity and attention since Edward Snowden, include the rights to information and privacy, both of which are being violated in Indonesia.