Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) conducted the Indigenous Voices in Asia – Network (IVAN)’s 2019 Regional Gathering in Chiang Mai, Thailand on 26-28 February 2019. The theme for this year’s gathering is “Promoting indigenous peoples’ right to media and freedom of expression in Asia for a future of peace, justice and equality.
It was attended by representatives from ten Asian countries, namely Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Taiwan/China, Thailand, Timor Leste, and Vietnam.
IVAN was established in July 2013 as a platform for promoting solidarity and cooperation among indigenous journalists, non-indigenous journalists and indigenous rights activists in advancing and defending media freedom, freedom of information, indigenous peoples’ rights and democracy in Asia. The network members include indigenous rights activists, indigenous media professionals and non-indigenous media professionals in Asia who support the aim of the network.
AIPP established and manages this network because it sees the roles that IVAN can play in amplifying indigenous voices. “IVAN can really help promote in changing the narratives in the ways that we can make others understand our culture identities, which contribute to the knowledge system across the world,” says Gam Shimray, the Secretary General of AIPP.
Through presentations and discussions, participants could share their country context as well as understand other’s in regards to three key thematic areas, which are indigenous peoples’ voices in mainstream media, indigenous media and/or alternative media voicing indigenous rights, as well as indigenous languages and media.
In the discussion about freedom of expression and representation of indigenous peoples in mainstream media in their respective countries, participants of the IVAN’s 2019 Regional Gathering shared one thing in common, that the mainstream media tend to ignore their voice.
According to a participant from Malaysia, “On mainstream media talks about ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ promoting the variety of cultures and customs, but when it comes to the mainstream media, we still have lots of issues going on about the restriction.”
“Sometimes, even there’s an evidence, they can’t publish because there’s a restriction to publishing,” says a participant from Bangladesh who is part of a mainstream television channel in the country.
While in Nepal, as shared by another participant, mainstream media do not want to incorporate the indigenous voices. “No security for media people who are being threatened,” says the Nepali journalist.
In some countries, the lack of indigenous voices in mainstream media has opened an opportunity for alternative and indigenous community media to voice indigenous peoples’ rights. “Even though the alternative media are facing threats, harassment and intimidation, they still are the main voice of indigenous peoples in the Philippines,” explains Rei of Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, a national alliance of indigenous peoples of the Philippines.
Social media have also provided alternative platforms for indigenous peoples to voice their concerns, and even to connect with the mainstream media. According to the Thailand-based Indigenous Media Network (IMN), it is now easier for indigenous peoples in Thailand to reach the mainstream media as compared to ten years ago.
Countries in Asia have a different state of freedom of expression, and it affects the way indigenous peoples’ rights being voiced. “Media is a means of communication and express our freedom of expression. This gathering is important to reflect what’s going on the in ground,” says Gam.