More than mouthpieces: The other side to Southeast Asian journalism

SEASS lecture by PhD fellow Emilie Tinne Lehmann-Jacobsen, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen.


The journalists of Southeast Asia are not ignorant, oblivious or naïve. They are used to the stereotypical depictions of their profession and their questionable relationship with the people in power and to the yearly insult when Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House publish their press freedom indexes. They know how they are being described, evaluated and criticised. But that does not mean that it is not galling to their pride. On the contrary they are very proud: proud of their profession, their skills and their mission. However, that side of the story is rarely being told. Though journalists in the region face many problems and find themselves under immense pressure from constantly changing market conditions, increasingly more affluent audiences and different degrees of authoritative states there is more to them than the clichéd portrait of the inert marionette.

Based on a comparative study of journalism in Singapore and Vietnam, PhD fellow Emilie Lehmann-Jacobsen presents another side to journalism in Southeast Asia. Journalists in the two countries find themselves in constant conflict between wanting to provide their audiences with quality information and living up to expectations of their role in society. While the states’ persistent interference in their profession is a big issue journalists are more concerned about the consequences of the rapid spread of the Internet and communication technologies. Social media and online-based news outlets may help to push the boundaries and set the media agenda but perhaps not without devaluing the profession and eroding years’ worth of professionalization progress.


Emilie Lehmann-Jacobsen is a PhD fellow at the University of Copenhagen, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication. She has a MA in media studies from the University of Copenhagen where she among other things looked into potential connections between the spread of the Internet and the development of civil society in Vietnam. Before returning to academia she worked several years as a journalist at the Danish newspaper Politiken.

For the last 3 years she has been working on a comparative project on journalism in Singapore and Vietnam with the ambition of creating a better understanding of the different roles and positions journalists occupy in the two countries. She has a keen interest in media development and press freedom issues but advocates for more nuances in the discussions concerning the two topics.

Moderator: Mark Philip Stadler, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
Commentator: Rinatania Fajriani, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
The lecture is part of the Southeast Asia Signature Series (SEASS)