Jefferson Fellowships

The Jefferson Fellowships offer print and broadcast journalists from the United States, Asia and the Pacific Islands the unique opportunity to gain on-the-ground perspectives and build international networks to enhance their reporting through an intensive one-week education and dialogue seminar at the East-West Center in Honolulu followed by two weeks of study tour travel in the Asia Pacific-U.S. region.

Program Background

Jefferson Fellows interview U Win Tin, a founding member of the National League for Democracy, who spent 19 years in prison.The Jefferson Fellowships is the East-West Center’s most widely-recognized and established seminar program, with an illustrious alumni network of more than 600 Jefferson Fellows across the Asia Pacific region and the United States. The broad goal of the program is to to enhance public understanding through the news media of cultures, issues and trends in the Asia Pacific region. Participation in the Jefferson Fellowships provides journalists with enhanced knowledge of the most important regional issues, valuable professional contacts, and life-long friendships with their colleagues in the program, as well as access to the EWC’s international network of more than 1,000 media professionals and 50,000 alumni. The program is made possible through a generous grant from The Freeman Foundation of Stowe Vermont and supplemented by contributions from news organizations, US Embassies in Asia Pacific, other foundations and the East-West Center.

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The 2015 Jefferson Fellowships program took place May 2-23. Fifteen journalists from 12 different countries explored the conflict in the South China Sea with travel to Beijing and Hainan Island in China, Manila and Masinloc in the Philippines, and Singapore. Please see below for a write up of the program.

The 2016 Jefferson Fellowships program will take place May 1-22. Destinations and theme will be announced in late November. The application period will be from late-November to mid-January.

The 2015 Jefferson Fellowships program

Theme:  The South China Sea: Trade, Resources and Conflict

Destinations: Honolulu, Hawaii; Beijing and Hainan Island, China; Manila and Masinloc, Philippines; and Singapore

Dates: May 2-23, 2015

The seas are vitally important to the Asia Pacific region. Countries in the region are heavily dependent on international trade and imported energy, the bulk of which travel by sea. They are the source of much of the protein in the diets of many countries in the region, a demand that is increasing as middle classes grow. They have potentially valuable energy and mineral resources. The South China Sea is one of the world’s most heavily used transit corridors and is the key route for trade as well as the imported energy fueling regional economies. It is estimated that roughly half a billion people live within 100 miles of the coasts of the South China Sea and the seas are potentially rich in fishing and hydrocarbon resources. There have long been disputes over sovereignty, overlapping exclusive economic zones and competing claims, but these tensions have heightened in recent years, creating conflict and an urgent need for regional coordination in the seas. These tensions can hinder needed cooperation on other critical challenges of sustainable management of sea-based resources, protecting the environment, combating criminal activities such as poaching and piracy, and ensuring the stable and efficient freedom of navigation that plays a key role in Asia’s growth and prosperity.

From top: journalists attended a rountable discussion hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Defense, Beijing, China; and a forum on the South China Sea hosted by the Philippine goverment, Manila, Philippines

From top: journalists met with fishermen from China and the Philippines; shipping, Singapore Strait

The 2015 Jefferson Fellowships provided journalists with an opportunity to deepen their understanding of these complex issues including the role that oceans play in the prosperity and security of Asia Pacific countries, the legal frameworks that govern the use of the seas, the roles of various countries and organizations in enforcing these rules, the disputes over ownership of maritime territory in the South China Sea and the prospects for the way forward. In Honolulu journalists learned about these issues and the role of the United States from regional experts, US military officials, and presentations by one another. Travel to China and the Philippines provided first hand perspectives from two of the key claimants in South China Sea disputes who are at the center of the first case brought for international arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. Visits to the capital cities as well as local communities bordering the South China Sea explored the importance of the seas to both countries—one a continental rising global power and the other a developing island nation. In Singapore, participants explored the business of trade by sea in a city-state highly dependent on maritime transshipment for its prosperity and one of the gateways to the Malacca Strait, through which almost 50,000 ships carrying half the world's trade and one-third of global oil pass each year. Singapore also offered an opportunity to explore strategies and scenarios for regional cooperation in managing territorial disputes as well as efforts to mitigate piracy and manage congestion in these vital shipping lanes.


The Jefferson Fellowships are supported by a grant from The Freeman Foundation and by the East-West Center. The 2015 program was also generously supported by grant funding from the US Embassy Bangkok, US Embassy Canberra, US Embassy Hanoi, and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

The 2015 Jefferson Fellows were:

  • Ms. Qin CHEN, Reporter, Caixin Media, Beijing, China
  • Dr. Rungthip CHOTNAPALAI, News Anchor/Producer, Thai Television Channel 3, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Mr. William ENGLUND, Assistant Foreign Editor, Washington Post, Washington, DC, United States
  • Mr. Jim GOMEZ, Chief Correspondent, Associated Press, Manila, Philippines
  • Mr. Takuya HIRAGA, Reporter, The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, Japan
  • Mrs. Huong HOANG, Editor, VietNamNet Newspaper, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Ms. Shu-ling KO, Reporter, Kyodo News, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Ms. Gretel C. KOVACH, Military Affairs Reporter, U-T San Diego, San Diego, California, United States
  • Ms. Susan LANNIN, Business Journalist, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ultimo, Australia
  • Mr. Siddhartha MAHANTA, Assistant Editor, Foreign Policy, Washington, DC, United States
  • Mr. Sachin PARASHAR, Assistant Editor – Strategic Affairs, The Times of India, Delhi, India
  • Ms. Ellen READ, National Business Editor, Fairfax Media (NZ), Auckland, New Zealand
  • Mr. Ravi VELLOOR, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, Singapore
  • Ms. Tracy WHOLF, Associate Producer, WNET/PBS NewsHour Weekend, New York, New York, United States
  • Mr. Fitriyan ZAMZAMI, Masrum, Editor/Journalist, Republika Daily Newspaper, Jakarta Selatan, Indonesia

The 2014 Jefferson Fellowships program

Theme: Challenges of Democratic Transition

Destinations: Honolulu, Hawaii; Jakarta and Banda Aceh, Indonesia; Yangon and Naypyidaw, Myanmar

Dates: February 22-March 16, 2014

The Arab Spring marked a wave of political transition and increased hope of a burgeoning new world order based on liberal democratic principles. However, roughly two-and-a-half years after the revolutions in the Arab world, not a single country is clearly on course to become a peaceful, stable and inclusive democracy: While elections are an essential component in democratic transitions, many other elements are also key: a system of checks and balances; rule of law and access to justice; a pluralistic party system; and a robust civil society that includes traditionally marginalized groups.

The 2014 Jefferson Fellowships program took place February 22 – March 16, 2014 with travel to Honolulu, Hawaii; Jakarta and Banda Aceh, Indonesia; and Yangon, Myanmar and included 15 journalists from ten countries. The 2014 Jefferson Fellowships program entitled, “Challenges of Democratic Transition,” explored the requisites of democratization and nation building by examining two Asian countries in the midst of democratic transition - Indonesia and Myanmar. The 2014 Jefferson Fellowship looked specifically at efforts intended to improve transparency; decentralize power; ensure greater civilian rule over the military; foster a pluralistic party system; reduce economic inequality; strengthen the judiciary; redress past injustices; and advance democratic values of press freedom and citizen engagement. The Fellowship also explored the historical struggles of ethnic and religious minorities through visits to Banda Aceh in Indonesia and dialogues with Burmese ethnic communities. In addition, the Fellowship considered how each country has engaged the U.S. and its Asia Pacific neighbors via political and economic ties and how this engagement has impacted democratic transition. In each city, participants met with a diverse mix of government officials, academics, business executives, fellow journalists and civil society leaders. Fellows also participated in the East-West Center’s 2014 International Media Conference in Yangon, which focused on “Challenges of a Free Press.”

2014 Jefferson Fellows and former Jakarta Governor, Jokowi.

Highlights of the Jakarta study tour included an on-the-record meeting with Vice-President of the Republic of Indonesia, Boediono, who offered an overview of efforts to address specific challenges such as corruption and the lack of bureaucratic capacity. The challenges of combatting corruption in Indonesia were further examined in a panel discussion with civil and political society representatives, including: the Vice Chairman of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the Secretary General of Transparency International in Indonesia, and the Coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch. Finally in Jakarta, an on-the-record meeting with then-Governor of Jakarta and now President, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, regarding his administration’s efforts to “build trust” between a responsive and inclusive government and the Jakarta electorate through civil society engagement and direct outreach was beneficial both thematically and as a means of expanding the Jefferson Fellowships’ network and deepening their future coverage of Indonesia. As stated by an American journalist, “[The Fellowship offered] several chances to meet upcoming power players who could develop into highly-placed contacts. The forward looking nature of the Fellowship really impressed me.”

Tsunami tour of Banda Aceh, Indonesia led by Mr. Muslahuddin Daud of the World Bank.The 2014 Jefferson Fellowships program took the journalists to Banda Aceh to compare the Helsinki MoU with other efforts in the Asia Pacific region and assess its success, or lack thereof, to integrate minorities and former combatants into a democratically governed state. The journalists met with former GAM negotiator and Chairman of the Aceh Rehabilitation Agency, M. Nur Djuli, to discuss the history of the separatist movement in Aceh, how the Helsinki MoU differed from previous accords and its implementation thus far.  A meeting with Muzakkir Manaf, Vice-Governor of Aceh and Chairperson of the Aceh Transitional Committee, explored the socialization, demilitarization and reintegration of former GAM combatants as well as issues of conflicting loyalty and identity. The journalists also met with the Governor of Aceh, Zaini Abdullah, who offered his analysis on the new political relationship between Aceh and the Indonesian state. As Aceh is the only province in Indonesia explicitly authorized by national law to adopt laws derived from Islam, the journalists appreciated a panel discussion on the implementation of Sharia; to whom it applies; the enforcement mechanisms; and how those laws may or may not impinge on individual rights, to be useful as an example of Aceh’s “self-governance” and as a means of better understanding sharia law itself.

Meet and greet with USDP Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Parliamentarians in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. The Yangon study tour began with the opportunity to attend the East-West Center’s 4th International Media Conference (IMC), where distinguished keynote speakers and panels of working journalists discussed challenges facing press freedom in their countries and shared strategies they use for news gathering. The conference also included on-the-ground updates on news and media issues in the region, a wide range of practical skill-building workshops, and unique opportunities to network with more than 300 media and regional professionals from all over the world. Following the IMC, the Fellows returned to exploring the 2014 Jefferson Fellowship theme. A panel discussion with the Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon provided the journalists with an overview of the ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, including the:  Kachin, Wa, Shan, Karen, and others. Another highlight of the Yangon study tour was a panel discussion with students and young activists who frankly shared their perspectives on Myanmar’s democratic transition as well as their hopes for the 2015 election and beyond. The journalists also had a chance to fly to Naypyidaw, the previously-closed capital city of Myanmar, where they were met by two lower house Parliamentarians from the ruling Union Socialist Democratic Party (USDP), including U Hla Myint Oo, Chairman of the International Relations Committee. A final highlight was a panel discussion on inclusive governance and Parliament’s role in policymaking with lower and upper house Parliamentarians representing ethnic minority areas.

Examining the experiences of Indonesia and Myanmar, what reforms have been taken, and what challenges remain enabled participating journalists in the 2014 Jefferson Fellowships to better understand democratic transition and nation building generally and apply that knowledge in their analysis of other countries struggling to move toward a more democratic future. An American journalist captured this point, writing:

We focused heavily on issues of democratic transition and nation-building. Everyone knows and agrees these issues are deeply important (for Indonesia/Myanmar, for the Asia-Pacific, and globally), but most journalists are not trained as political scientists and so are not likely to include them in their coverage, or even to fully understand them when they cover the many, many news topics that are related to democratic transition and nation-building. The fellowship was not just a study of Indonesia and Myanmar, then, but a crash course in principles and processes of democratic transition and nation-building that will enhance my coverage of these phenomena across all countries.

 Another American journalist similarly wrote:

The ongoing transitions in Indonesia and Myanmar are often under-reported in the international media. Now I understand the unique cultural, ethnic and historical challenges that each country faces with democracy and their future elections. This will also be extremely helpful in providing proper context in future stories – whether it’s breaking news, such as violence in hotbeds of ethnic strife, or more elaborate, planned stories, such as the 2015 Myanmar elections. Moreover, the lessons learned here can helpful with coverage of democratic transitions in countries around the world.

Overall, the journalists felt that the fellowship achieved its stated goal of bringing together journalists from Asia Pacific and the United States to deepen their knowledge of regional issues and establish international networks. They found the 2014 Jefferson Fellowships program a tremendously rewarding and enriching experience personally and professionally. A Pakistani journalist captured the sentiments of many of the participants:

The Fellowship didn’t just build understanding and an information base regarding [the] U.S. and [the] Asia Pacific on the fellowship theme, but also groomed my ability to perform as a journalist. It was a transformational experience for me as it exposed me to such a comprehensive approach towards an issue before reporting or commenting on it. The IMC and my fellow Jeffs were also a huge resource.

The 2014 Jefferson Fellows were:

  • AHMADY, Freelance, Harian Rakyat Aceh, Medan, Indonesia
  • Frank M. DENTON, Editor, The Florida Times-Union and, Jacksonville, Florida, USA
  • Fatai FAINGA'A, Senior News Reporter and Presenter, Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), Fasi-Moe-Afi, Tonga
  • Max FISHER, Foreign Affairs Blogger, The Washington Post, Washington DC, USA
  • Tzu Chiang HUANG, Deputy, Central News Agency (CNA), Taipei, Taiwan
  • Moayyed Ali JAFRI, Correspondent, The News International Daily, Lahore, Pakistan
  • Anupma KHANNA, Senior Feature Writer, The Pioneer, Dehradun, India
  • Hashmatullah KOHISTANI, News Manager, Bokhdi News Agency, Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Hein Min LATT, Senior Editor, Eleven Media Group, Yangon, Burma
  • Chang LIU, Senior Reporter, Global Times, Beijing, China
  • Saw Yan NAING, Senior Reporter, Irrawaddy Magazine, Yangon, Burma
  • Jena STURGIS, Line Producer, Shepard Smith Reporting, Fox News/21st Century Fox, New York City, New York, USA
  • Hannah TORREGOZA, Reporter, Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp, Manila, Philippines
  • Shakir ULLAH, Senior Producer, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Islamabad, Pakistan
  • Holly YAN, Newsdesk Editor, CNN, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

For information on the 2013 Jefferson Fellowship program, click here.

For information on the 2012 Jefferson Fellowship program, click here.

Contact Information
Ann Hartman
Seminar Specialist, Seminars
East-West Center
1601 East West Road
Honolulu, HI  96848-1601  USA
Phone: (808) 944-7619
Fax: (808) 944-7600