Fake news, local booze, Uber lose

Hello friends!

After I sent this out last week I realised I totally forgot to even MENTION how to sign up before the paywall kicks in! If you’d like to, subscribe here on the main page and it’ll take you to payment details (USD$5 a month or $50 for the year). If you’re keen to stay on as a free reader that’s totally fine too and you don’t even have to do anything so that’s easy. If you’re a student from an Asean (or Timor Leste!) country and would like to get the full deal, email me back and we can sort it out.

And for the tech-inclined amongst us, I do not understand the Uber-Grab thing that well (I’m a diehard Gojek fan, thanks) so lucky for us, friend of the newsletter Nadine and her tech newsletter really got into it this week – read up here and sign-up!

I’ve had two stories published this week: Code-switching in the Philippines for Splice Newsroom and a look at the Philippines’ divorce bill for the Diplomat (more about both of these pieces in the Philippines section).

See you next week,

Erin Cook


Hello Thailand! Firstly, Andy Hall, the British labour activist who exposed human rights abuses in the country’s fruit industry, has been ordered to pay 10 million baht (AUD$416,000) for defamation. Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi Leh (aka the Beach beach) is off-limits for a few months as officials hope to repair environmental damage inflicted by tourism. I don’t usually care that much about tourism as an industry but this is really interesting and I hope they keep us updated on how effective it is so maybe it can roll-out elsewhere.

Pro-democracy students marched last weekend prompting speculation the junta would further delay elections. Chill, the junta said today, we’ll drop restrictions in June and you can start talking policy and that then. We’ll see! For the time being, parties met with the Election Commission to clarify what can and cannot be done after April 1 when the restrictions are slightly loosened up.

Two horrible stories for migrant workers based in Thailand. This morning a bus carrying workers from Myanmar caught fire, killing 20 people. Women workers in Thailand experience violence and abuse at a terrifying rate, with 40 percent of working migrant mothers reporting abuse. This has a run-on effect for their children who often live in poor conditions.


Myanmar has a new president. Win Myint was sworn in today and here’s Frontier Myanmar with all the context you need, including touching on NLD’s pressing generational renewal problem. Amal Clooney will represent Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. There’s already a bit of ‘mmm can she even do that?’ but the more eyeballs on the case, the better I say. Facebook isn’t having a good time lately, but they still have to answer UN claims it has contributed to the Rohingya crisis.

This is an amazing profile historian Kyaw Hla Maung and his effort to save the ancient Brahmi language of the Rakhine peoples. Still in the region, here’s a very handy explainer on the repatriation deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

This is this week’s pick for the most horrifying lede: “A court in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon today handed a former child soldier a prison term of two years at hard labour following his conviction for describing his abduction and forced military service in an interview last year with RFA’s Myanmar Service.”


Here is a very thoughtful piece on the thread connecting today’s Cambodia to the response from the world to the events of 1997. Targeting of media continues, with former RFA journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin having pornography charges added to their woes. The must read this week comes from New York Times on ethnic Vietnamese communities which live on (on) the Mekong.


We have a lot on Laos this week from David Hutt: Laos is on track for a China debt trap which raises questions about where the usually closed government sees itself heading and how tough is it actually getting on crime?


Timor Leste’s maritime border dispute had a huge step forward earlier this month, but it’s not over yet with the home of the pipeline to still be decided. I love the idea behind this: difficult geography helped Timorese survive colonisation and invasion. But now, it’s a roadblock to growth.


Brunei, wyd.


As we touched on last week, Singapore’s ‘fake news’ hearing took up most of the week. One of this newsletter’s favourite journalists in the region, Kirsten Han, featured prominently and I recommend Channel News Asia’s write-up of her appearance. It wasn’t the only hairy incident. Human Rights Watch had been invited to give testimony but decided in the end it wasn’t worth it, saying: “we have ... reluctantly come to the conclusion that these hearings are not a true consultation on how best to deal with ‘fake news’, but a media event aimed to showcase those who agree with the government’s views and criticize those who do not.” Singapore has flagged problems with the Uber-Grab deal and competition laws, so that’s one to watch.


I LOVED this one from Vietnam this week taking a look at how the politburo functions and exploring economic priorities, particularly the sell-off of so many state-owned firms. Singer and activist Do Nguyen Mai Khoi was detained for a hot minute this week in Hanoi.


Malaysia has had a massive week in the lead up to the election so CATCH UP. Lucky I already have it all ready for you right here: first half of the week and here’s the second.


I have had a BIG month with the Philippines! Here’s another two from me this week: what’s up with how Manila media uses code-switching as part of the style but you don’t see it anywhere else (thanks so much to Splice Newsroom, this is kinda a dream story!) and a look at the divorce bill which just passed Congress this week (this is actually super important pls read and also read this one). But enough about me!

One week soon we’ll have a proper look at what exactly is up in the South China Sea re: Philippines and China getting chummy, but for now here’s an update care of the Interpreter. Timely, since the Palace has been put on the defensive with Chinese vessels in the SCS stirring up anxiety.

Mostly, I’m just sitting here waiting for all the brilliant Good Friday procession photo essays to come through – expect a load next week!


Indonesia has become mixed up in the Cambridge Analytica mess with revelations the parent company arrived in Indonesia in the heady days of the immediate post-Suharto era. I think it’s a great story and I can’t wait for more analysis on it, but I worry stories like this misunderstand how effective (lol) ‘political consultants’ generally are.

Is Jokowi going to pick a Golkar VP? Who knows. I’m still burnt out from all that Prabowo nonsense last week. Sticking with party politics for a minute though, I did love this one about Partai Solidaritas Indonesia. Setya’s looking at 16 years, well it could’ve been life!    

Now, the misc: David Beckham came to town and honestly it shouldn’t be this sweet but I think I love him now, what a doll!! There is not enough English language sources on this. Anyway, serious stuff. You know how we weren’t going to talk about Jokowi and Asean and Australia? We still don’t have to, but I hard recommend this one if you are so inclined. And another heavy one from our friends at Monga Bay – “Residents of the last district in South Kalimantan still free of mining and palm oil say they will fight to protect their villages, even as new laws smooth the path for mining companies.” And what’s up with Indonesia’s homegrown booze?