Taiwan ranks first in Asia in terms of freedom of the press according to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index released on Wednesday by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB). The Index, which ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists, has been published by RWB since 2002.
This year Taiwan ranked 45th, advancing 6 positions compared with 2016 and clearly outperforming its East Asian neighbours. South Korea ranked 63rd, up seven places from last year, Japan remained in 72nd position, while Hong Kong fell from 69th to 73rd place. Singapore stayed at the bottom of the Index, rising slightly from 148th to 151st.
According to RWB, Singapore‘s government “responds vigorously to criticism from journalists and does not hesitate to sue its detractors and apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country.” Furthermore, the Media Development Authority (MDA) can censor content both online and in print as well as limit the distribution of films and other media formats.
Hong Kong has experienced an “erosion” of media independence due to pressure from Beijing and the purchase by mainland Chinese tycoons of Hong Kong media companies such as the South China Morning Post (SCMP), which was acquired by Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group last year. Journalists “are finding it more and more difficult to cover sensitive stories about the Hong Kong government and Mainland China,” RWB’s report states.
Not surprisingly, the worst countries in terms of press freedom in Asia are China (176th), Turkmenistan (178th) and North Korea (180th). The Chinese government’s hostility to free media affects not only Hong Kong, but also Taiwan, where the greatest threat to media freedom “comes from China, which has been exerting growing economic and political pressure on the Taiwanese media.”
The best continent in the world for freedom of the press is Europe, with most of its countries occupying the top spots of the Index. Norway ranked 1st, followed by Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Germany ranked 16th, France 39th and the United Kingdom 40th.
The United States is 43rd, behind Belize and Burkina Faso.
The World Press Freedom Index seems to suggest that there is no direct correlation between a country’s economic development and its level of press freedom. For example, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, with a per capita GDP of about 34,000 US$, 52,000 US$, and 42,000 US$ respectively, have a lower press freedom score than middle or low income countries like Romania (around 9,000 US$), Ghana (around 1,400 US$) and South Africa (around 6,000 US$).
In April of this year RWB announced that it would open its first Asia office in Taiwan, reversing a previous decision to choose Hong Kong. Chinese dissident Wu’er Kaixi, one of the students who took part in the 1989 Tiananmen movement, proposed the island as an alternative, arguing that Hong Kong presents “real obstacles” and RWB “wouldn’t be able to guarantee the safety of their staff.” Wu’er Kaixi is a member of RBW’s emeritus board and now lives in exile in Taiwan.
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