South Korea slips lower in press freedom index
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South Korea slips lower in press freedom index

SKorea slides six places to 50th, but remains one of the highest-ranked Asian countries

South Korea has dropped even further in Reporters Without Borders’ yearly press freedom rankings, falling six places from 44th last year. Last year’s position was itself a fall from the 2010 standing of 42nd, meaning South Korea has now fallen eight places in three years and finds itself behind countries such as Haiti, Cyprus, and Burkina Faso, whom it previously ranked above.

However the nation can take heart its standing in relation to some of its neighbours and peers. It still finds itself in the middle of the pack of the OECD countries and for the first time since 2006, above regional neighbours Japan who slip to 53rd.

In fact, in the Asian region South Korea is very competitive and above the likes of China, Thailand, Mongolia, and Hong Kong. The only East Asian nation to come above South Korea was Taiwan, marginally ahead in 47th spot.

North Korea unsurprisingly finds itself near bottom of the pack, just above the bottom placed Eritrea, a position both have held for the past three years.

So should South Korea be worried about their slide or celebrating their high ranking among Asian countries?

NKTech’s Martyn Williams spoke to Benjamin Ismail, the head of RWB’s Asia-Pacific desk, who offered some explanation on Korea’s current ranking,

“[It’s] partially due to the prosecution of Chung Bong-ju, a politician who was jailed for spreading false rumors during an appearance on the Naneun Ggomsuda podcast.

“South Korea was also marked down for general online censorship, notably the security law that restricts information about North Korea, and the unlawful termination of journalists and breach of Editorial independence,” he said.

Ismail also explained that when journalists in Korea were answering the questionnaires that help form the PFI table they commented on a ‘climate of self censorship’ that they felt stopped them from fair and open reporting.

All this comes after a tumultuous 2012 for Korean media and reportage, particularly in regards to internet and social media. The New York Times told us in August this year:

“A government critic who called the president a curse word on his Twitter account found it blocked. An activist whose Twitter posting likened officials to pirates for approving a controversial naval base was accused by the navy of criminal defamation. And a judge who wrote that the president (“His Highness”) was out to “screw” Internet users who challenged his authority was fired in what was widely seen as retaliation.”

MBC also went on strike for the first half of 2012 citing government interference in their reporting, with other broadcasters staging smaller, sympathy walk-outs. Although this strike may be looked at as a sign of change, of a media standing its ground, it should be noted that similar, in fact larger, strikes took places in 1992. It seems the same problems plague the industry now as 20 years ago.

South Korea’s troubles look minimal of course when compared with its neighbours to the north.

Benjamin Ismail also spoke to Australia’s ABC about North Korea, calling Kim Jong-Un’s reign “a continuation of …… [the] policy of his father, Kim Jong-Il, and further his ruling not totally alone, but with the military junta, which doesn’t want the society to change the political control. They want to keep their political control.”

It seems likely North Korean media will not be reporting on the PFI table, but perhaps more enlightening will be the response of the South Korean media. So far all is quiet.