Jury perspectives: Southeast Asia and Oceania

Veejay Villafranca, Southeast Asia and Oceania jury chair 

My role as the chair of the Southeast Asia and Oceania jury was focused on balancing news coming out of our region with photographic stories that may have been missed by the news cycle. The stories we ultimately selected covered aspects of life that may not have otherwise had the chance to reach global audiences.

Ongoing conflict in countries such as Myanmar and the Philippines continuously threaten civil liberties and democracy, and are a particular concern in our region. The conflicts are present not only on land but also at sea. The jury felt that the interconnectedness of the region through its bodies of water creates a unique geopolitical situation that cannot be ignored. In addition, a number of photographers tackled continued abuses of the environment, which have extreme effects on local communities, in the form of rising sea waters, industrial disasters, and massive displacement of people.

Many submissions not only tackled gritty news stories, but also visualized solutions to prevailing issues. While it can be eye-catching to focus on dire circumstances, not all work was bleak. We saw work that reflected on daily life, from the relationship of animals and humans, through food security and agricultural economics, to sport as a reflection of identity and culture. These stories gave the regional jury hope that by focusing on the positive, a change in perspective might be possible.

For many years, parachuting photographers have arrived to document stories in countries where they have no context or local knowledge. So, it was inspiring to see photographers from Myanmar, where only recently has the emergence of local photographers documenting atrocities and bearing witness to the resistance movements in their homeland been more widely seen.

The dominance of social media and the decline of traditional news platforms have provided space for an upsurge of unethical practices in visual reporting and documentary. This highlights the challenges of working as a photographer in a region where many do not have the same professional opportunities or career training as in other parts of the world, and are operating independently. Recent years have seen local photographers push back on unethical practices in news outlets, by becoming more aware of the importance of the tenets of journalism and visual reporting. In addition, collaboration with international organizations has helped in safeguarding ethical practices for future generations to adapt.

Judging the World Press Photo Contest entries comes with a heavy responsibility, sending a message to colleagues worldwide that high-quality, ethical photojournalism is still important and necessary. We continue to face professional challenges that assault the tenacity of bearing witness to inequalities, persecution, and injustice. However, showing the world a record of these events helps curtail continued acts of brutality.

We call on established media platforms, the press, independent publishers, and academia to uphold the rights and safety of photojournalists as part of the pledge of providing the public with accurate reporting. And we remember and give the highest respect to all colleagues who have lost their lives and those who continue to put their lives at risk to show hard truths to the world.

Veejay Villafranca
2024 World Press Photo Contest Southeast Asia and Oceania jury chair

Watch the global jury present the Southeast Asia and Oceania winning works

For more information about why each 2024 World Press Contest awarded work was selected by the independent jury, read the jury report