Country Media Report Presentations (Summary)
LASALLE College of the Arts, F309
24 May 2019, 10:45am
In this session, Taisuke Shimanuki (Japan), So Phina (Cambodia), Pristine de Leon (Philippines), Nia Agustina (Indonesia) and Amitha Amranand (Thailand) presented overviews of the arts media landscape in their respective countries.
Acknowledging that arts coverage extends beyond the confines of traditional media, Shimanuki introduced the Roundtable to a spectrum of platforms that Japanese writers use to engage in arts criticism.
- Arguably the most well-known of the examples cited by Shimanuki, Bijutsu-Techo is a magazine founded in 1948, and has been covering contemporary and performing arts in Japan since the end of World War II.
- Shihai, a magazine started by a young critic called Kentai Yamazaki, focuses on publishing critical introductions and analysis of plays.
- There are also DIY magazines like Arguments (philosophy) and Art Trace Press (art criticism). Arguments, in particular, is unique in that it is not stocked in bulk in bookstores. In a bid to be more environmentally friendly, copies are produced only upon actual demand and hand-delivered to those who purchase them. While DIY magazines are not presently perused in the mainstream, Shimanuki nevertheless expressed optimism about their increasing presence, and opined that magazines will stay relevant so long as they continue to publish criticism-centric articles.
- Shimanuki opined that social media platforms are actually the most functional platforms for arts criticism, due to convenience in accessibility. He cited the example of Sasaki Atsushi, who regularly Tweets his impressions/opinions of art to his 27,000 followers. According to Shimanuki, plays enjoy an increased audienceship after Atsushi tweets about them.
- Genron is a magazine published by Hiroki Azuma that covers not just art, but also sociology, politics and science. Azuma also established the Genron Cafe, an actual event space where talks regarding the above topics are organised. These talks are livestreamed and/or subsequently uploaded onto video sharing websites.
In light of the autocratic regimes like the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, Khmer Republic and Khmer Rouge, Phina pointed out that widespread illiteracy effectively prevented Cambodians from accessing the media for a good part of the late 20th century. It was only with the intervention of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1992 when media in the country began to be democratised.
Nonetheless, Phina opined that arts media activity in Cambodia remains relatively subdued in the aftermath of the abovementioned legacies. Censorship remains prevalent across the board in Cambodia society – in 2017, the Cambodian government infamously added clauses that effectively restricted the freedom of expression that the 1995 Press Law was meant to safeguard. Phina also shared that while arts media in Cambodia covered a wide variety of forms (including visual arts, performing arts, literature and film), reviews tended to provide mere summaries of what was being presented without any critical analysis – partially due to the fear of offending fellow artists in an already small arts community, but also because of a lack of sustained educational opportunities for arts criticism. She concluded her presentation by expressing her desire to see not just a movement towards greater freedom of expression, but more resources invested into nurturing young arts writers.
de Leon’s presentation outlined the dichotomy that exists between mainstream and independent media platforms in the Philippines, and what kind of arts coverage they prioritise. She observed that while major, market-driven events like Art Fair Philippines would receive significant attention from mainstream media platforms – especially daily broadsheets – by default, events organised by independent artists usually struggled to receive publicity beyond the immediate arts community. Despite the audience outreach that daily broadsheets have, de Leon questioned if print media was still financially accessible given that the advent of the digital age.
While there is an emerging trend of community and lifestyle websites (e.g. Sunstar, SPOT.PH and ANCx) that cover the arts, their focus on releasing preview/review articles as instantaneously as possible inevitably meant that these articles were not only shorter, but geared towards enhancing the commercial attractiveness of the events being covered – rather than engaging in critical discourse. Only independent media sites (e.g. Gaslight and diskurso) select personal blogs (e.g. Ivan Labayne and John Levi Masuli) and academic journals (e.g. Kritika Kultura, Philippine Humanities Review and Pananaw) can be regarded as seriously engaging in criticism, although the question of their accessibility amongst readers remains. de Leon pointed out that these publications were predominantly written in English, and that there remains a lack of art writing platforms that publish in Philippine languages.
Titled “The Alternative Media: A (Have To) Choice in Indonesia’s Art Scene”, Agustina’s presentation started off with an exposé of lack of solid arts coverage in Indonesia’s mainstream media. Citing several examples of print and digital media from Jakarta and Jogja’s mainstream media, Agustina brought the Roundtable’s attention to how the number of articles and/or columns dedicated to arts coverage on these platforms was noticeably less compared to even the likes of gossip and celebrity news! Agustina then proceeded to share alternative publications and sites like Majalah GONG, Skana Newsletter, GELARAN.ID, IVAA, WartaJazz and teraSen!.com – all of which are/were run by writers who were also arts practitioners themselves, and were better versed in arts criticism. Predicting that the intentions of mainstream and alternative media vis-a-vis arts coverage were likely to diverge in the foreseeable future, Agustina expressed her hope for more training in arts criticism for alternative arts media platforms.
Against the backdrop of Thailand ranking between 135 – 142 on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, Amranand pointed out that the lèse majesté law has been weaponised by both politicians and the military to clamp down on those who pose as a threat to their power (especially since the burden of proof always lies on the accused), and cited the examples of Thai artists who were harassed/arrested for staging the likes of Bang La Merd’s Area of Violation and Jaosao Mapa’s The Wolf Bride. Where arts coverage in Thailand is concerned, Amranand opined that critical writing about visual arts, while sporadic, was nevertheless the most developed because of the success of Thai visual artists in the international art scene. Critical writing about television and film, on the other hand, was a lot less developed because of how the media treats them as entertainment. Critical writing about the performing arts lay in the grey area of being the least surveilled, but also the first to be cut from publications when they encounter financial problems.
Nevertheless, Amranand concluded that while arts writers in Thailand enjoy greater press freedom as compared to their political counterparts, there remains a pressing need for a more intellectually rigorous culture of arts criticism, where there is a recognition that arts criticism is more than just mere journalism.