Mediating Society: Activism and Journalism in Myanmar, Indonesia, Taiwan and China

Title: 1378 | Mediating Society: Activism and Journalism in Myanmar, Indonesia, Taiwan and China
Area: Southeast Asia
Stream: Sociology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Nobuto Yamamoto, Keio University, Japan (organizer, presenter)
Violet Valdez, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines (presenter)
Chang-de Liu, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (presenter)
Elizabeth Chandra, Keio University, Japan (chair)


Rapid innovation of information technology has changed the ways by which people obtain information and make sense of their society. In the era of digital media, citizens increasingly gain broader access to information whether they live in a democratic or authoritarian regime. The proliferation of access and information however appears to have come at the cost of quality. This panel explores how media environments in Asian countries – specifically Myanmar, Indonesia, Taiwan, and China – have been transformed by both technology and politics, and how they, in turn, engender new social awareness. In democratizing Myanmar non-governmental organizations (NGOs) used films to advocate social issues including human rights; while in democratic Indonesia the social media has transformed racial relations and, by extension, the discourse on racism. With regard to artificial intelligence (AI), democratic Taiwan has misgivings about its deployment in news production, whereas authoritarian China is more receptive to it, emphasizing its supposed neutrality. This panel offers a unique synthesis of scholarship on media, activism, and journalism in four Asian nations.

Panel Abstracts:
Racism and Social Media in Indonesia
As a formerly colonized nation, Indonesia has a long history of racism. Anti-Chinese sentiment in the country, for instance, has deep colonial roots and goes back as far as the 18th century. The post-colonial regimes have for the most part preserved such racial antagonism, mobilizing it at times for political purposes. The authoritarian Soeharto government (1966-1998) in particular framed the Chinese minority as a separate “race,” while the diversity of the rest of the country is explained in terms of “ethnic” variety. This hierarchical distinction was supposed to mark “outsider” and “insider” nationally. In the past years, however, the term “race” – in particular its derivative “racism” – has reemerged in the public discourse in a different context and meaning. In the age of social media, the discourse of racism has resurged with not only the Chinese minority as its target, but also marginal “ethnic” groups such as the Papuans. While discrimination against the Papuans is not new, the framing of it as “racism” is. I argue that the shift in usage and meaning of this term can be credited to a global public culture, shaped by both the mainstream and social media for the national context.

Education, Media and Human Rights Advocacy in Myanmar
The end of direct military rule in Myanmar in 2010 set into motion reforms that ushered in the development of a ‘hybrid’ government. Among these reforms was the relaxing of restrictions on media censorship. With greater freedoms, news media establishments began to proliferate, the upshot of which was an aggravation of an already existing deficit in professional journalists. The imbalance in the demand and supply of professional journalists in the country rose to alarming proportions as commercial media hired unqualified personnel as journalists, notwithstanding the multiple ramifications. Government and non-government institutions of the Global North stepped into the picture, many of them ploughing funds and other resources to civil society groups. One of these is the Human Dignity Film Institute (HDFI) which began operations when it organized the first Human Rights International Film Festival in 2013. Only a few local films shown in the festival dealt with human rights issues, prompting the festival founders to expand their activities to the training of local film makers who would ‘produce human rights documentaries of local subject matters.’ As culminating project, groups of three participants produced a film that reflects the training program’s theme “Shaping human rights and democracy by public discourse.” The training program ran from 2014 to 2016. Twenty-one films were produced, a few of them earning international recognition. This paper examines how these films reflect the interconnectedness of media and advocacy in some of the most pressing human rights issues in Myanmar.

Artificial Intelligence, Journalism and Newsworkers in China and Taiwan
The robotic reporter or machine-writing technologies have been introduced into many newsrooms of media in China, along with the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI). However, this emerging AI appliance is less developed in Taiwanese news production. While both governments are enthusiastic in developing AI and new technologies, there are significant differences in media organizational attitudes towards the automated journalism between China and Taiwan. This paper conducts a comparative analysis on the discourses about introducing AI into news production in the two societies. The findings suggest that, firstly, the media discourse in China usually emphasizes the positive impacts of AI in news media, such as empowering human journalists, improving working qualities, etc. Nevertheless, Taiwanese media tends to highlight the negative impacts on human journalists – for instance, the replacement of job opportunities by AI reporters, the increase in working pressure, etc. Secondly, the discourse in China is more inclined to claim that the AI technologies could facilitate the objectivity that human reporters are difficult to achieve, since the machine-writing is regarded as neutral and objective in reporting. However, the discourse in Taiwan is relatively more doubtful about the positivity of AI in pursuing excellent journalism

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