Asia-Pacific Press Freedom (Part 2)

In the ever-evolving media landscape of the Asia-Pacific region, the World Press Freedom Index for 2013 reveals a mixture of progress and stagnation, with several nations facing profound challenges to press freedom. This analysis dissects the unique circumstances and the state of the media in various countries within the region.

Burma’s Remarkable Transformation

Burma (151st, +18): 2012 was a pivotal year for Burma, as the nation made an extraordinary leap forward by climbing 18 places in the rankings. Notably, the government abolished prior censorship and allowed exiled media organizations to return. This marked a significant stride toward genuine freedom of information. Perhaps most remarkable was the absence of journalists or cyber dissidents in the country’s jails, symbolizing a remarkable turnaround.

Challenges Persist in Authoritarian Regimes

North Korea (178th), China (173rd), Vietnam (172nd), and Laos (168th): In these authoritarian states, the suppression of information remained a central concern. The governments feared openness to criticism and clung to strict control over news and information. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un appeared to rule in partnership with the military junta. In China and Vietnam, online news providers, bloggers, and netizens faced intensified repression. Tibet’s struggle for human rights also drew harsh consequences. 

Commercial news outlets and foreign media organizations experienced regular censorship. Authorities ramped up efforts to monitor and remove “sensitive” content from the internet. 

In Vietnam, courts sentenced 12 bloggers and cyber-dissidents to lengthy jail terms in less than a year, solidifying its position as the world’s second-largest prison for netizens, following China.

Decline in South Asia: A Troubling Trend

Indian Subcontinent: The year 2012 brought a concerning deterioration in the media environment across the Indian subcontinent.

Maldives (103rd, -30): The Maldives witnessed a sharp decline in press freedom following the events leading to President Mohammed Nasheed’s resignation. Journalists associated with media outlets regarded as pro-Nasheed by the coup leaders faced violence and threats.

India (140th): Four journalists lost their lives in India in 2012, and the country dropped to 140th place. Censorship of the internet and the imposition of taboos persisted, while violence against journalists went unpunished. In regions like Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, journalists found themselves increasingly isolated.

Bangladesh (144th): Bangladesh followed suit, with journalists frequently targeted by police violence. The security forces, at times, failed to intervene while media enemies enjoyed impunity. The murderers of journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi remained at large.

Pakistan (159th, -8): Despite having a vibrant media landscape, Pakistan remained one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. The government’s lack of a protective media policy exacerbated the situation.

Nepal (118th, -12): The ability of journalists to work freely in Nepal worsened due to the absence of government measures to safeguard media professionals. Although Nepal’s media was diverse and lively, it continued to be perilous for reporters.

Japan’s Disturbing Shift

Japan (53rd, -31): Japan experienced the most significant drop in ranking among Asian countries. The government imposed a ban on independent coverage related to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. Freelance journalists who voiced concerns about stifling public debate faced censorship, police intimidation, and judicial harassment. The persistence of the “kisha clubs,” exclusive press clubs that restrict information access to their members, also hindered the country’s prospects of moving up in the index.

Afghanistan’s Fragile Improvement

Afghanistan (128th, +22): Afghanistan showed considerable improvement compared to previous years, with fewer cases of violence against journalists and media worker arrests. Although the country remained far from ideal, the absence of journalist deaths in 2012 and declining arrests represented progress. However, this improvement was precarious, given the withdrawal of foreign troops and deteriorating conditions in neighboring Pakistan.

Cambodia and Malaysia: A Descent into Authoritarianism

Cambodia (143rd, -26): The media climate in Cambodia deteriorated significantly as the government orchestrated a policy of censorship targeting local and foreign radio stations. Mam Sonando, the owner of an independent radio station, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for insurrection and incitement to take up arms against the state. Deadly attacks and death threats against journalists who exposed government corruption and environmental abuses contributed to this decline.

Malaysia (145th, -23): Malaysia’s press freedom record remained troubling as the government continued to crack down on rights activists and online media outlets. The government’s campaign of repression, exemplified by the crackdown on the “Bersih 3.0” protest, persisted, undermining basic freedoms, including the right to information.

Challenges in Papua-New Guinea and Fiji

Papua-New Guinea (41st, -6): Security forces in Papua-New Guinea frequently engaged in attacks on journalists. The country’s media environment remained turbulent, demanding attention to safeguard journalists.

Fiji (107th): Fiji faced threats to media organizations under the Media Industry Development Decree, which threatened exorbitant fines and imprisonment. These measures targeted journalists who exposed government corruption and activities harmful to the environment. Notably, the editor of the Fiji Times was recently convicted.

The Asia-Pacific region’s media landscape in 2013 was marked by a diverse array of challenges, with some nations showing remarkable progress while others grappled with the suppression of press freedom. The report underscores the persistent resilience of journalists in the face of adversity and the need for global efforts to protect and promote press freedom.

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