Independent news website Malaysiakini raised funds from international donors to support its Southeast Asia Centre for E-Media (Seacem) and a number of other projects, its chief executive officer Premesh Chandran said today.
Seacem was initiated by Malaysiakini in 2004, Premesh (right) said, to help civil society and fledgling online media organisations in Asia use new technologies to promote press freedom, human rights and democracy.
Since its inception, Seacem has provided capacity-building to organisations from 15 countries - Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and East Timor.
Among the media organisations Seacem has helped are Burma's Mizzima news website and Irrawaddy magazine, Thailand's Prachatai website, Mindanao's Mindanews, Cambodia's VODHotnews and Timor Leste's Timornewsline - many of which are like Malaysiakini, independent media in their respective countries.
"Seacem has trained these organisations on how to build better websites, improve online security, use social media, develop video products and other areas related to the new media," Premesh said.
"Malaysiakini is the first website of its kind in this region and Seacem is a way for us to share our expertise, which we have developed over the past 13 years," added Premesh. "With Seacem, all these organisations need not reinvent the wheel."
He said that to facilitate learning, the grants that Seacem raised are also used to offer internships to staff from these client organisations to spend a few months at the Malaysiakini office in Kuala Lumpur.
Regional human rights portal
Seacem was also hired to build a human rights portal for eight key regional organisations, in which Suaram is the Malaysian partner.
Premesh said this in response to media reports on the controversy over funding provided by Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to human rights group Suaram and a host of other groups in Malaysia, including Malaysiakini.
He said Malaysiakini receives grants not just from NED but also from other international donors to support its special projects.
Aside from Seacem, the grants helped Malaysiakini build a team of 300 citizen journalists from across the country and set up information sites such as Undi.info and digitalibrary.my.
"We're happy to work with international foundations on interesting projects to promote press freedom. We are transparent about such partnerships. These grants form a small part of Malaysiakini's budget."
Despite the grants from the international donors, Premesh stressed that Malaysiakini holds dear to editorial independence, which represents one of the website's key core values.
"We strongly believe that without independent financing, there will be no editorial independence.
"To preserve this, Malaysiakini must be independent from the government, advertisers, donors as well as political parties.
"That is why, to this day, Malaysiakini is still majority-owned (70.9 percent) by its co-founders and its staff.
(The other 29.1 percent is owned by venture fund MDLF).
"We also ask our readers to pay a subscription fee so that the bulk of our revenue comes from readers, as well as through advertising.
"We are perhaps the only media organisation that requires our investors to sign an undertaking to respect editorial independence."
Premesh stressed that Malaysiakini will remain true to its editorial independence, and will continue to work with like-minded partners on projects that promote press freedom.
"We believe that press freedom is essential for democracy. It is the only way to hold the government accountable, stop corruption and the politics of patronage," he added.
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