The 2018 press freedom rankings report released by Reporters Without Borders presents a dismal picture for Asia. The media watchdog noted that Asia-Pacific democracies are being threatened by “China’s media control model”.
China was placed at slot 176 – in a ranking of 180 countries – and was described as the “world’s leading prison for citizen journalists”. North Korea finished last.
Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark occupy the top slots in the newest rankings of press freedom. The United States finished in the 43rd position.
“Xi Jinping’s China is getting closer and closer to a contemporary version of totalitarianism. During President Xi’s first term, censorship and surveillance reached unprecedented levels thanks to the massive use of new technology. Foreign reporters are finding it harder to work and ordinary citizens can now be jailed just for sharing content on a social network or during a private chat on a messaging service,” the watchdog said in its latest report released last week.
It said other Asian countries – especially Vietnam and Cambodia – were adopting the Chinese model of state-controlled news and information. The Chinese model’s influence is also felt by the media in Thailand (140th), Malaysia (145th) and Singapore (151st), it said.
However, it noted, that Hong Kong placed in the 70th slot and Taiwan at 42nd – both rising three places each – were “resisting China’s growing influence in their different ways”.
South Korea – up 20 places at 43rd – rose more than any other country in the Asia-Pacific region. After a terrible decade, the new president, Moon Jae-in, has brought a breath of fresh air that helped resolve a conflict between journalists and management at the public broadcasting service, the report said.
The report described the Philippines, down six places at 133rd, as one of the continent’s deadliest countries. The other big fall in the region is Myanmar’s – down six places to 137th. The report said reporting on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya is still impossible.
Violence against journalists is increasingly worrying in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, the report said.
At least nine journalists were killed and six more severely injured in a double suicide bombing in Kabul on April 30. The second explosion deliberately targeted reporters and is said to be the deadliest attack on the media in Afghanistan in more than a decade.
India slipped two places on the index, and is now ahead of Pakistan only by one spot. The media watchdog blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “nationalism” and growing “self-censorship” in the mainstream media for India’s dive.
Bhutan and Nepal were placed in the 84th and 100th rank, respectively. Sri Lanka is at slot 131, Mongolia at 71 (down two notches) and Japan at 67 (up five notches).
North Korea finished last at 180th. “The state news agency KCNA is the only authorised source of news for all of the country’s media. Just reading, viewing, or listening to a foreign media outlet can lead to a spell in a concentration camp,” the report noted.
The watchdog warned Vietnam and Cambodia were going the China way.
In the past year, Cambodia slipped 10 spots to occupy the 142nd slot. The watchdog described this as the biggest dip in the region on the press freedom index. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime launched a ruthless offensive against media freedom in 2017, shutting down more than 30 independent media outlets and jailing several journalists in a completely arbitrary manner.