FREEDOM of the press has “never been so threatened” in the Asia-Pacific and worldwide, according to a new report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The international watchdog’s World Press Freedom Index 2017 illustrates that media freedom even in democracies is declining globally, and the Asia-Pacific continues to be home to some of the world’s most oppressive governments.
RSF highlighted China (ranked 176), North Korea (180) and Laos (170) as “press freedom predators” where “the world’s worst dictatorships” oversee “news and information black holes.” In the Asia-Pacific, only New Zealand (13) and Australia (19) made the top 20.
Media freedom in the Trump era
The ranking lists 180 countries according to media pluralism and independence, the quality of legislation and the safety of journalists. It is translated into 20 languages and has been released annually since 2002.
In 2017, Norway topped the list along with neighbours Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, whilst Asian pariah state North Korea was ranked last at 180.
This year’s edition particularly emphasises the decline of press freedom in the United States, which is down two places at 43 since the presidential campaign of Donald Trump began.
— RSF (@RSF_inter) April 26, 2017
Trump and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom both promoted “a highly toxic anti-media discourse that drove the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation, and fake news,” said a statement by RSF.
It also highlights the situation faced by journalists in Turkey as part of the steady erosion of democratic institutions under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since a failed coup in July 2016. The country “now distinguishes itself as the world’s biggest prison for media professionals,” said RSF.
“The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“Where will this downward spiral take us?”
Asia’s press freedom predators
The report says along with Turkey, China (176) and Vietnam (175) are “the world’s biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers.”
Taiwan was the top ranked in East Asia at 45, while Hong Kong was listed at 73 despite declining press freedom due to the growing influence of Beijing.
Southeast Asia was particularly repressive of the press, with the tiny democracy East Timor ranked highest at 98, Malaysia (144), the Islamic kingdom of Brunei (156) and the strongest democracy in the region Indonesia at 124.
Military junta-ruled Thailand was at 142, less free than Burma (131) currently undergoing democratic transition.
Meanwhile, the Philippines (127), Pakistan (139) and Bangladesh (146) are some of the world’s most dangerous countries to work as a journalist. South Asia also fared poorly, with Maldives (117), Nepal (100) and the world’s largest democracy India way down the list at 136.
World Press Freedom Day 2017 will be hosted in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 3.