12 March 2021

COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in 2020, including the momentum of ASEAN Community building. Due to global lockdown, ASEAN’s information sector became not only a vital source of data, but it also became responsible in ensuring the information conveyed was correct and timely. This was stated by Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Mokti bin Haji Mohd Daud, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, today when he attended the 15th Conference of the ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information (15th AMRI) and Related Meetings held via video conference at the Prime Minister’s Office.

In the Plenary Session of the 15th AMRI, Yang Berhormat Dato delivered a statement about the increased importance of the information sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, Yang Berhormat Dato was pleased that AMRI’s actions on fake news and misinformation were in line with the Leaders’ Declaration of the Special ASEAN Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019 and the Joint Statement of the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on Coronavirus Disease 2019, which were both adopted on 14th April 2020. Furthermore, the Joint Statement of the AMRI to Minimise the Negative Effects of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) endorsed in 2020 demonstrates AMRI’s commitment to strengthen cooperation in enhancing public communication, and supporting the free flow of information during and after COVID-19 in ASEAN.

From a positive perspective, COVID-19 has accelerated the process of moving towards a more digitised way of living. Even in lockdown, media technology enabled us to sustain communication through digital means; improve our knowledge and use of digital technology; and develop digital commerce and trade. However, increased use of digital and social media have also given rise to the spread of fake news and misinformation; misuse of media technology; and cybercrime as well as cybersecurity attacks.

In this regard, AMRI must not be complacent in countering the negative aspects of the “new normal”. Yang Berhormat Dato made four (4) suggestions, which are to strengthen coordination in urgently addressing fake news, specifically through the ASEAN Task Force on Fake News; to continue shaping a community that are responsible users of media; to engage with other sectors to counter cybercrime; and to ensure timely information on travel bans and restrictions. On this, Brunei Darussalam proposed for the information sector to work closely with other sectors and relevant national agencies in broadcasting travel updates and information.

Brunei Darussalam, as ASEAN Chair in 2021 has chosen the theme “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper,” which underscores ASEAN’s collective pursuit to improve the well-being and livelihood of its people, especially as the region works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme emphasises that ASEAN needs to work together to realise shared interests and confront challenges of common concern. All this will ultimately enable the people of ASEAN to thrive, prosper, and secure sustainable development, for the benefit of present and future generations.

The theme of the 15th AMRI “ASEAN: A Digital Community with Accessibility for All” is relevant to Brunei’s chairmanship goals, and welcomed the Framework for Promoting Accessibility for All in ASEAN Digital Broadcasting endorsed by the AMRI in December 2020. Brunei Darussalam supports the initiative to increase access for all groups of people including those with disabilities and senior citizens, and has launched the first phase of sign language interpretation on ‘Berita Perdana’ national primetime news on 1 February 2021.

Yang Berhormat Dato also highlighted an excerpt of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s titah at the 37th ASEAN Summit, in which His Majesty stated that the regional outlook and post-2025 Community Vision will be shaped by actions in the coming years. These must therefore be arranged well so future generations can face the next era with confidence and optimism.

The information sector is as important as the health and finance sectors in helping ASEAN recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build a more prepared, dynamic and sustainable community. AMRI’s support towards Brunei Darussalam’s aim to promote Strategic and Holistic Initiative to Link ASEAN Responses to Emergencies and Disasters (ASEAN SHIELD) in 2021 is important. SHIELD is an overarching approach to better shield the society, economy and the broader developmental agenda, as well as to enable a swift and collective response in mitigating impacts of emergencies and disasters. This work in particular includes supporting the use of digital technologies to facilitate the digital transformation of the region, enhancing communication practices and cooperation during crisis situations, and strengthening media and information cooperation with other relevant sectoral bodies, stakeholders, and partners within and beyond the region.

The Conference began with an Opening Ceremony in which His Excellency Anucha Nakasai, Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office of the Kingdom of Thailand as AMRI Chair for 2020 and 2021, in his opening remarks touched on the important role played by AMRI in maintaining ASEAN’s effective role under the fields of media and information, especially in light of the unprecedented situations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. His Excellency stated that ASEAN is moving towards a digital community with accessibility to all, through the reinforcement of digital skills of ASEAN citizens and ensuring that no one is left behind.

His Excellency Dr Phan Tam, Vice Minister, Ministry of Information and Communications, Viet Nam was the Deputy Chair of the Conference. Also attending were Ministers and senior officers from other ASEAN Member States as well as the Secretary-General of ASEAN.

The 15th AMRI discussed and endorsed three (3) outcome documents which will be elevated to the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits for the Leaders’ notation, namely the Framework for Developing Digital Readiness among ASEAN Citizens; Framework for Promoting Accessibility for All in ASEAN Digital Broadcasting; and the Joint Media Statement of the 15th AMRI and Related Meetings.

The 15th AMRI also noted the report of the 18th Senior Officials Meeting Responsible for Information (18th SOMRI), the 6th SOMRI+3 and the 3rd SOMRI+Japan which included Brunei Darussalam’s reports on ASEAN cooperation with the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the ASEAN Plus Three. Brunei Darussalam is currently the country-coordinator for ASEAN-ROK dialogue relations.

In the afternoon, Yang Berhormat Dato also attended the 6th AMRI+3 Meeting together with Ministers and Heads of Delegation from other ASEAN Member States as well as the Plus Three Countries. The Meeting was chaired by Thailand.

The 15th AMRI Conference was preceded by the 18th SOMRI, the 6th SOMRI Plus Three Meeting and the 3rd SOMRI Plus Japan Meeting held on 10 March 2021, which was attended by senior officers from the Prime Minister’s Office, Radio Televisyen Brunei and the Information Department.