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Tess' first book “Leap: Leaving A Job With No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want” was published in August 2015 by Random House Harmony. For more information on the book, go here.

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Tess Untethered | Watching “The Post” in Southeast Asia
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Watching “The Post” in Southeast Asia

Jan 26 2018

Watching “The Post” in Southeast Asia

There haven’t been many moments over the last couple of years living abroad where I wanted to stand up and declare “I’m an American!” Between the mass shootings, #metoo moments, government shutdowns, and White House meltdowns, there just hasn’t been much to cheer about.
 

But the movie “The Post” just arrived in Bangkok and I went and saw it tonight — in a theater full of Thais. At the end, I wanted to jump up and make sure they all knew that was ​MY country. The country where reporters and editors-in-chief aren’t cowed by political threats. The country where the nation’s highest court came down on the side of the fundamental right to publish truth. The country where the act of holding government accountable is not only protected, but bird-dogged.
 

It was a different experience watching the movie here in Thailand versus what I think it would have been like back home. Sure, I would’ve gotten the same goosebumps when Ben Bradley (Tom Hanks) walks into Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep)’s office at the end and throws down newspapers from across the country that picked up the Pentagon Papers story and ran with it after the Times and the Post landed in court.
 

 But it was different because I was sitting in that theater with people who cannot say the same about their own media. I was surrounded by citizens of a country where the Pentagon Papers in all likelihood could never happen – not in anyone’s most remote imagination. And that’s the case in countries throughout this region. The press here are not free in any real sense of the word.
 

In ​fact, I’m hesitant to even detail the things that have happened here in ​Thailand because it could expose me to potential prosecution, and I don’t have any recourse or protection. So I will simply say — without judgment — that there is ​a law ​that ​bars anyone from speaking ill of or questioning the royal family. And the leader of the military junta recently presented the press with a cardboard cutout of himself and suggested they direct their questions to it. Next door in Myanmar, two Reuters reporters are currently under arrest for reporting on the Rohingya genocide. In Cambodia, where the government is sliding back into dictatorship, the primary English-language newspaper “Cambodian Daily” shut down last year after being ordered to pay US$6m in new taxes. Similar sudden tax demands also shuttered 19 radio stations there. In Vietnam, state-owned media dominate the landscape, and citizen journalists (bloggers/freelancers) have been arrested under laws that prohibit speech that is critical of the communist government. In Laos, the ruling party exercises near-total control over media, as does the government in Malaysia.

 

 Nowhere in this region are journalists a true and unfettered check on government power. Which is why it’s something of a surprise that “The Post” is even showing here​. The movie’s message is not a subtle one. Reporters and editors and independent owners of newspapers are the heroes of the movie, and they’re allowed to question and shine a bright light on government policy and policy-makers. That is a powerful message on the big screen. It’s a message that just might resonate with young people in this region — yes, even if it’s “just” a movie. And that is worth cheering — and bragging — about.
 

Especially in an era where citizens of these countries can no longer look to the American White House to protect and defend those same press freedoms. In this case, what they have is Hollywood and history — and maybe that’s enough to plant a spark for change in countries where change is sorely needed.

  

 

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