Philippines Massacre

Filipino journalists and supporters lift mock coffins during a rally to denounce killings of journalists in suburban Manila, Philippines in November. Pic: AP.

By Fergal Barry-Murphy

Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2014 Press Freedom Index paints a grim picture of media freedom in Asia, with just one country in the region making the top 50 in this year’s table, and only just.

Taiwan, in 50th place, heads the Asian countries on the list. Only five other countries in the region made the top 100 – South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Bhutan – and most of these show a significant decline in press freedom over the last year.

The bulk of Asian countries populate the lower reaches of the index, with a strong suggestion that the influence of China – 175th out of the 180 countries on the list – is dragging down the countries around it. Also on Wednesday the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a report suggesting that press freedom in Taiwan and Hong Kong in particular is under threat from Beijing’s influence.

RSF highlighted ongoing online censorship in China, the harassment of domestic and foreign journalists, and the jailing of dissident bloggers. On China’s foreign influence, it adds:

China’s growing economic weight is allowing it to extend its influence over the media in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, which had been largely spared political censorship until recently. Media independence is now in jeopardy in these three territories, which are either “special administrative regions” or claimed by Beijing.

Vietnam’s media policies, ranked just one better than China, are also seen to be heavily influenced by Beijing. Vietnam’s Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Burma all showed signs of improvement, though still face serious issues in reforming media freedom – such as Thailand’s draconian lese majeste laws which makes it illegal to criticise the royal family. The Philippines, with an appalling record for unsolved media killings, and Singapore, which strictly controls its media, both slid in this year’s index.

Outside of Asia the US, in the wake of last year’s NSA revelations, plummeted 14 places to 46th on the index, while the UK slipped three places to 33rd.

The top and bottom three places were unchanged in the 2014 league. The usual European suspects lead the world in press freedom – Finland, Netherlands and Norway – while the same three languish at the bottom of the table – Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

How Asia fared in RSF’s 2014 World Press Freedom Index:

50 – Taiwan (-3)
57 – South Korea (-7)
59 – Japan (-6)
61 – Hong Kong (-3)
88 – Mongolia (+10)
92 – Bhutan (-10)
130 – Thailand (+5)
132 – Indonesia (+7)
140 – India (-)
144 – Cambodia (+1)
145 – Burma/Myanmar (+6)
146 – Bangladesh (-2)
147 – Malaysia (-2)
149 – Philippines (-2)
150 – Singapore (-1)
158 – Pakistan (+1)
165 – Sri Lanka (-3)
171 – Laos (-3)
174 – Vietnam (-2)
175 – China (-2)
179 – North Korea (-)