The latest World Press Freedom Index illustrates how journalists in Asia are facing worsening conditions and restrictions and paints a shocking picture of our own country.
The index, which is published by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières — RSF) organisation, ranks 180 countries for media freedom and charts their relative change over time.
It says that journalistic freedom in Asia has “deteriorated dramatically,” citing the coup in Myanmar/Burma and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as the two standout cases.
The report says:
The Asia-Pacific region, which holds more than half of the world’s population, is also affected by more structural issues. The first of these is the policy of absolute control of information by the government. While North Korea (180th) is the worst country for press freedom, China (175th) continues to extend its information control model not only within its borders, but also beyond them. Thus, the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong (148th), now controlled by Beijing, has registered the steepest drop in ranking (68 places) in the 2022 Index. The governments of Vietnam (174e) and Singapore (139e) have also tightened their grip on the media. In countries reputed to be more democratic, the media face pressure from increasingly authoritarian and/or nationalist governments, such as India (150th), Sri Lanka (146th), and the Philippines (147th). Some critical journalists are targets of intense harassment campaigns, such as the one aimed at Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa.
The report also says media outlets in the more developed countries in the region are becoming hostage to corporations.
This region’s media also fall prey to the growing control of large industrial groups, whose influence encourages the self-censorship of journalists and editorial staff, as is the case, for example, in Japan (71st), South Korea (43rd), and Australia (39th).
Australia’s unusually concentrated media sector and government and judicial interventions have pushed Australia down the RSF list.
Although domestic media coverage of the list concentrated on Australia’s shocking result in relation to New Zealand and all other developed countries, it must also be remembered that this country ranks under the likes of Ivory Coast, Guyana, Dominican Republic and Bhutan.
Read an ABC report about the Australian situation
Although Australia’s closest neighbour — Papua New Guinea — scored relatively well, the situation in Indonesia is worsening.
The Jakarta Post reports:
The latest threat that human rights activists deem to be detrimental to press freedom is the passing of the new Criminal Code, with stipulations allowing for the criminalization of journalistic work deemed to be an insult to state institutions, the head of state or state ideology Pancasila. Other articles stipulate that members of the media could be prosecuted for running libelous articles and the spreading of “hoaxes”.
A former journalist who is now working in Jakarta for Human Rights Watch has written an article about the dissolution of the industry across Southeast Asia.
But from this darkening situation some rays of light continue to emerge.
According to the Global Investigative Journalism Network, international support is helping the situation.
Determined local reporters teamed up with international media and with nonprofit newsrooms, who are providing grant funds for investigative coverage, especially for environmental issues. With this funding, Malaysian journalists uncovered forest data gaps; Indonesian journalists raised the issue of fraudulent practices behind nickel mining; and journalists in Myanmar covered the devastating environmental damage that has been a side effect of that country’s 2021 military coup.
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