The mandate of the serious press is daunting under the best of circumstances. But it is even more difficult where, as in much of Asia, populations are linguistically diverse, far-flung, and largely poor; where governments do not always welcome or protect the free flow of news; and where resources for production, fair pay, and training are slim—factors that tempt publishers to rely on brisk-selling sensationalism or links to special interests to pay the bills. Eager to surmount these impediments, Asian editors and publishers meeting in Manila in 1967 took a stand for professionalism in the regional press. Vowing jointly to make journalism a positive influence in the political and economic maturation of their societies, they founded the PRESS FOUNDATION OF ASIA.
At the heart of their endeavor was a realization that newspapers and the related media must rise above narrow preoccupations with individual countries and their politics and seek to educate readers about the vast social and economic changes sweeping Asia. Under the leadership of Amitabha Chowdhury of India and Tarzie Vittachi of Sri Lanka, the FOUNDATION, or PFA, introduced “development journalism” and directed regional journalists to issues like population, health, technology, and the environment. They also dared look to the day when the Asian press itself, not powerful Western news agencies, would speak to the rest of the world for Asia.
Since that time, more than two thousand Asian journalists have been trained in PFA-led workshops and seminars. Taking up the full range of development topics, these training exercises have helped young Asian journalists become literate reporters on matters such as agriculture, ecology, and medicine and taught them skills in photojournalism, high-tech printing, and cost-effective management.
In a related endeavor, the FOUNDATION launched Depthnews, a regionwide, development-oriented news service. Depthnews was the first exclusively Asian news and features service and, in volume and range, remains unique today. Its forty-five correspondents generate stories used by some three hundred regional newspapers and some seven hundred radio stations in twenty languages. More than two million people read Depthnews stories annually in their local newspapers. More than fifty million hear them over the radio. These days specialized Depthnews series take up the subjects of science, economics, and women. In the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Bangladesh, there are national series as well. Although commercial success has eluded Depthnews, its reputation for excellence and breadth in regional reporting has made it a model the world around.
Some five hundred leading newspapers and broadcasting networks in Asia and the Pacific are now joined in PFA’s membership. Moreover, separate national press institutes have risen in several countries in response to its example and active support. With a staff of twenty in Manila, guided by Romeo Abundo and under the direction of its longtime Director General Mochtar Lubis, the PFA today—though often strapped for money—steadfastly advances its essential programs and causes.
From the beginning, press freedom has been chief among these causes. Lamentably, publishing the truth remains a dangerous occupation in parts of Asia today. This is why, in 1987, the FOUNDATION once again pledged to raise its voice against governments that arrest journalists and shut down newspapers arbitrarily. It is not enough for the press to perform well and to prosper, says its credo. It must do so “while staying honorable.”
In electing the PRESS FOUNDATION OF ASIA to receive the 1991 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes its guiding Asia’s press to look beyond national borders and speak intelligently to complex issues of regional change and development.
It is with a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment that we accept the 1991 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding.
The selection of the PRESS FOUNDATION OF ASIA for this prestigious award is an honor that we at the PFA will cherish for a long time to come.
However, that honor is not ours alone. It is that of the many institutions and individuals who have consistently helped us to carry out programs aimed at giving the Asian press a sense of professional purpose and responsibility appropriate to the needs of Asia and the changes taking place in Asian societies.
The award, in a larger sense, is a recognition of the twenty-four-year effort of the PFA to make the Asian press more aware of the need to look beyond national borders and address the complex issues of regional change and development.
Our sense of fulfillment derives from this recognition and from the fact that a growing number of Asian newspapers now devote more space to what the PFA founders had long perceived to be the most significant of features: the development story.
This award gives us all the more reason to pursue our ultimate objective. And that is to make the Asian press live, perform, and prosper in a growing region while remaining honorable.