LAUREN CHEN WRITES–Hong Kong’s media independence is in jeopardy, according to the annual 2014 World Press Freedom Index.
Reporters Without Borders released its latest study, considered an objective reference tool measuring press freedom, and ranked 180 countries based on aspects such as levels of censorship, number of attacks on journalists, pluralism, media independence, and transparency.
Noting the study, The China Post mourned the decline in press freedom in China and Hong Kong. Since last year, China dropped two spots to 175, approaching the still lower ranking North Korea at 178. Hong Kong’s position improved three spots to 58, while Japan dropped to 59, and South Korea fell from 50 to 57.
The West was not immune to criticism of its media freedom, as the U.S. dropped 14 spots.
Ironically, the Chinese Communist Party censored the World Press Freedom Index report. The State Council Information Office issued a statement ordering media to remove all content related to China’s ranking on the Press Freedom Index.
The report suggests that China has made a model of censorship and repression that is spreading throughout the region, accompanied by increasing numbers of arbitrary arrests. China’s growing economy has jeopardized press freedom in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Though Taiwan’s ranking for press freedom has fallen since last year, it still remains the highest in Asia.
The report covers instances of the Thai government’s use of lèse-majesté charges and South Korea’s punishment of defamatory content about the President’s family. Vietnam is close behind China with its detainment of bloggers and censorship of the social network. For countries like Laos and Cambodia, freedom has become stagnant, and India’s journalists experience an unprecedented wave of violence.
It’s noteworthy that Myanmar surpassed Malaysia and the Philippines on this year’s Press Freedom Index. Malaysia and Singapore maintain a tight control over their countries’ press through media laws and licensing requirements. Also notable, the report acknowledges Burma’s media transformation, marked by the return of previously “exiled media” publications, in addition to the creation of online media and radio stations. Reporters Without Borders asks if Burma foreshadows positive change in freedom of information for Southeast Asia. However, if China’s model of censorship expands, it could trump gains in press freedom.
Radio Free Asia president Libby Liu describes this year’s index as “sobering” because it reveals little change in the substandard media environments of certain countries. She said, “In China and Vietnam, an unrelenting crackdown continues on journalists, netizens and cyberactivists who venture beyond state-controlled media headlines.”
Lessons learned from this year’s report–internet freedom does not ensure press freedom, and even democratic governments can be exceedingly sensitive to criticism, extending penalties disproportionately.