Mostly 'men in suits' : the ASEAN summit and integration as news in Southeast Asia

This article is a preliminary examination of how Southeast Asian media frame the regional integration of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a news topic. Without grassroots engagement, the ASEAN integration will inevitably fall short of its grand objectives, and crucial to building grassroots engagement is media coverage capable of building audience interest and appreciation. Based on articles published during the major ASEAN summit events in 2018, the authors identified resonant themes in the reportage and discussed these vis-a-vis the documented character of the different media environments in the region. It was found that the axis of the reportage is the declarations and actions of the heads of state, with very few human interest and context-building stories that would have built audience engagement in what is otherwise an affair revolving around ‘men in suits’. Moreover, the journalistic emphasis on consensus and state initiatives reflects continuing adherence to the tenets of the development journalism framework, but this can also be interpreted as the dominance of ‘prominence’ as a news value (i.e. stories are framed according to the gestures of prominent individuals). These findings call attention to the need for re-thinking reportage on potentially high-stake phenomena such as the ASEAN integration.


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