Thursday, April 7, 2016

How an ASEAN News Agency Can Promote the ASEAN Community

This week, Malaysia’s communications and multimedia minister Salleh Said Keruak proposed establishing an ASEAN news agency.   Mr. Salleh said that the “the proposed agency could deliver a comprehensive range of coverage from around the grouping’s 10 member countries,” according to the Malaysia Star, adding that “almost every Asean member faced crossborder issues relating to security and national sovereignty and such issues should be reported in a cordial and transparent manner,” the Star reported.

To Western media, the concept of a unified news agency for ASEAN may seem a bit outdated, given the plethora of media available in print, broadcast and online.  However, one should remember that most ASEAN member states still maintain government-supported/sponsored news agencies, with the exceptions of the small media markets of Singapore and Brunei.  Hence the concept of having an ASEAN news agency that would provide the same functions as these national news agencies is still relevant, at least in the ASEAN context.

The real questions would be what topics the ASEAN news agency would cover, as well as who would work for this agency and how they would pursue their objectives. 
First, would the ASEAN news agency cover the ASEAN institutions only or also cover regional and cross-border issues in Southeast Asia? If the former, there are existing media sources in the ASEAN Secretariat and the rotating ASEAN Chair.  An ASEAN news agency could help consolidate the coverage, as the information coming out of the ASEAN Chair varies on an annual basis, depending on the capabilities of the member state serving as ASEAN Chair.  If the latter, there are existing cooperative efforts among the regional media groups as well as regional entities such as Channel News Asia and CNBC.   An ASEAN news agency could enhance these cooperative and regional efforts.

Second, how would ASEAN topics be covered?  Currently, media coverage of ASEAN or regional issues is either event-driven (e.g., the ASEAN Summits) or incident-driven (e.g., a natural disaster).  Continuing coverage of ASEAN regional issues could be fostered by an ASEAN news agency devoted to such issues. 

Third, who would work for an ASEAN news agency?  Should the agency be more of a cooperative effort among national media groups, or should it be more like the government-supported/sponsored news agencies?  This is a fundamental question that would need to be resolved by ASEAN itself. Either way, I would hope that the ASEAN news agency would have sufficient numbers of capable staffers fluent in all of the ASEAN languages, as much of the media coverage of ASEAN in non-English language media is relatively sparse.

Finally, the ASEAN news agency should not limit itself just to traditional media, but also focus on social media.  Otherwise, it will lose its relevancy to younger audiences.

In short, an ASEAN news agency could be a useful tool in promoting the ASEAN Community to ASEAN’s people and to the greater world.  However, both the practical and existential aspects of the ASEAN news agency need to be addressed, in context to its regional environment in ASEAN.