As the non-Communist governments of Southeast Asia grow more sensitive to foreign news reports they consider unfavorable, they are taking increasingly repressive action against Western journalists.
These include arrests, expulsions, bans on circulation of Western publications, public statements by officials against correspondents, limitations of journalists' movements and the refusal of top officials to see them.
All the governments have complained in the last few months that many correspondents apply Western standards to their reports from the region, without regard for political, economical, social and cultural differences.
There is no totally free press in any of the Communist or non-Communist countries of Southeast Asia.
"It's the same story all over the region," a Western diplomat in Indonesia said. "With their own press totally controlled, they've forgotten what a free press is supposed to do. If they don't allow their own newspapers to criticize policy, you can't expect them to take it from you fellows."
Some Communist countries, interestingly, have been slightly loosening their restricitons on foreign coverage. Five American journalists have been allowed into Vietnam to cover the U.S. delegation's visit to Hanoi. Some U.S. diplomats in the region believe that Vietnam may admit more American reporters when relations between the two countries improve.
Communist-run Laos remains essentially off-limits to American correspondents, and Cambodia is closed to Western journalists.
Politicians and senior government officials in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the philippines and Indonesia insist that a press that is free, in the Western sense, is too easily manipulated by subversive forces and obstructs nation-building.
In Indonesia, which has been buffeted in the last several months by foreign reports of widespread government corruption, officials say they believe a number of Western publications have joined in a "conspiracy" against the government.
"These critical reports you've all been making lately hamper our speed of development," Indonesian press director Soekarno said in an interview in Jakarta. "They draw the attention of the people away from development to other issues which create frustration."
Soekarno said that The Washington Post, The New York Times and Newsweek magazine believe they have "a mission to create better government. But if they employ the Western tradition of hitting issues face-on, they will not achieve their mission. They must follow the slower, more indirect Indonesian way, or else our government will ban foreign journalists and will ignore their reports."
Indonesia's attorney general, Ali Said, told local editors a few weeks ago that they should stop reprinting Western news reports on the country and "let them go to hell."
Several Western correspondents recently in Indonesia found that almost all top government officials held similar views. Repeated appeals for interviews with national leaders, asking for their comments to balance criticism of the government, failed.
Here in Singapore, where Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has crushed what used to be a reasonable and balanced polygot press, local and foreign journalists alike find themselves under constant pressure.
Two Singaporeans representing foreign publications were arrested in recent months. One, Arun Senkuttuvan, who wrote to the internationally respected Financial Times of London, is being held on charges of pro-Communist activities. The other, Ho Kwon Ping, of Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review, was fined $3,000 for writing an article based on "protected information" about Singapore's armed forces.
Singapore's Foreign Minister Sinathamby Rajaratham, a former journalist, says Western correspondents dislike Singapore, without doubt the region's economic success story, for its very success. For this reason, Rajaratnam says, reporters dwell on Singapore's failings.
In an editorial marked by a curiously apologetic tone, the once-independent Straits Times said this week that "judged by the degree of the license" of Western press freedom, "Singapore fails."
But, the paper continued, "Our press cannot afford the luxury enjoyed in the West of being able to pillory presidents and prime ministers out of office for indulging in a little electorial skulduggery.
"Perhaps it is a freedom we are better off wihout, if it means the avoidance of national self-flagellation and a weakening of the people's faith in their system of government."
In Thailand, where a British correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review was expelled last month, the military-backed government appears interested in improving the atmosphere with both local and foreign journalists.
Prime Minister Thanin Kraivichien has agreed to meet next week with representatives of the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand. A member of Thanin's staff told local reporters that the government hoped to remove "the curtain" between the government and the press.
In the Philippines, where domestic media have been brought firmly to heel, Bernard Wideman, an American contributor to The Washington Post and the Far Eastern Economic Review, is undergoing a public hearing and has been warned that his visa will not be extended. He has been charged with rumor-mongering and being an undesirable alien.
Another Manila-based correspondent Arnold Zeitlin of the Associated Press, has been barred form the country since being refused reentry last year.
The situation in Malaysia is only marginally better for foreign reporters. In an atmosphere made there by the arrest of two Malay editors on charges of being Communists, foreign correspondents are coming under repeated verbal attacks, particularly by the flamboyant home affairs minister, Ghazai Shafie.