JAKARTA, Indonesia — In a conference in Myanmar last month, the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) underscored the need for sustained efforts to move toward a people-centric ASEAN regional community and to commit to create an environment that would allow people to participate and benefit from the process. That includes the realization of the goal of the group’s economic pillar, labeled the ASEAN Economic Cooperation (AEC), to transform the region into a single, production-based market in a highly competitive milieu of equitable economic development and integrated global economy.
The process also covers the aspect of an ASEAN socio-cultural community that can encourage cultural and people-to-people contact across borders, which embraces human development, social welfare and protection, social justice and rights; ensures environmental sustainability; builds the region’s identity and narrows the development gap.
The ASEAN strongly encourages people-to-people contact, discussions on how to serve people, to make travel in ASEAN countries easier by considering visa-free arrangements, to implement educational exchanges and to incorporate ASEAN studies in the education curricula of various countries.
The group is likewise currently discussing how to allow non-ASEAN citizens to travel between ASEAN countries, just like how holders of a Schengen visa can easily travel between several European countries. We call it the ASEAN common visa, so non-ASEAN members will only need one visa to travel to all 10 ASEAN countries.
The ASEAN roadmap of “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” is a daunting task, and would require strategic communications support to attain its goals. This is where a select group of public relations professionals come in.
In an initial summit in Jakarta recently hosted by the London School of Public Relations (LSPR), the ASEAN PR Network (APRN), a non-profit organization, was formally launched. PR professionals from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines made the commitment to bolster networking capabilities, partnerships, relationships, and commonness among the PR community in the ASEAN arena ahead of the implementation of the regional economic community by the end of 2015.
“The APRN aspires to establish itself as the premier PR society in the ASEAN region. Several PR leaders have thrown their support to the idea, given their collective attendance in the announcement of the coalition,” Prita Kemal Gani, founder and director of LSPR, stated. With the theme “Facing a Cascade of Transformation,” the APRN called for real action for ASEAN PR specialists to share knowledge and experiences of their respective PR practice with other member countries. The establishment of the APRN was a perfect opportunity for people to get to know each other better in terms of professional standards, competencies, and individual perspectives about public relations.
“We have gathered to talk about the benchmark associated with ethics, skills and knowledge of public relations, and we can definitely learn from the best practices of professionals and educators around the region” Gani enthused. She declared that the communication leaders of the 10 ASEAN member states are geared up to support the birth of the AEC, and PR will be a major and critical component as borders open.
Freddy Tulung, director general of Indonesia’s Communications and Information Technology Ministry, said that the challenge ahead for the PR community is how to increase awareness and interest among targeted publics about the impending AEC and how people can adapt to it. “There’s a lack of public involvement and consciousness in terms of programs and activities, so we need to put the community in the driver’s seat,” he said.
Truth to tell, many still don’t understand what ASEAN is, its objective and what kind of assistance it can deliver in serving the community. Hence, there’s a need to provide an unassailable brand character, a strategic level of noise, a unique perspective for the community, and an effective and efficient use of public space to inform people about the changes in their everyday lives as a result of the AEC. “How PR professionals reach out to their various stakeholders, and how the APRN can be people-oriented and community-driven is the challenge,” Tulung added.
K. Bhavani, a former president of the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore, suggested that the APRN must get involved in promoting the AEC and should incorporate efforts to bring in more people, particularly from the private sector and the academe. She called for the institutionalization of a code of conduct for the profession, to share ethical practices as well as build a database of PR professionals and practices.
Bao Nguyen Quoc, managing director of Awareness ID Public Relations in Vietnam, welcomed the APRN as a forum for sharing ideas among PR practitioners in the region. “We don’t have a PR association or a standard for managing issues in Vietnam,” he shared. “Whenever a company in my country faces a crisis, PR professionals are not prepared to handle such an occurrence. We’d rather hide than deal with it. In that regards, we see APRN playing a vital role in helping upgrade the skills and knowledge of the ASEAN PR specialist,” he said.
Parichart Sthapitanonda, PhD, a PR professor from the Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, emphasized the need for thorough research as APRN plans and communicates the ASEAN initiatives. “ASEAN PR must harness its collective strength to promote ASEAN and beyond,” she said. “In this way, the world will take a higher respect to ASEAN as a united community.”
As president of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP) and a longtime communications professor, I represented the PR professionals and educators of the Philippines. As I have said, we welcome the critical partnership and are committed to sharing best practices, helping in aspects of strategy formulation and creative execution, and assisting in the information, education and communication campaign to push the one-ASEAN scheme.
Working towards one ASEAN