TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The World Press Freedom Index measures media freedom in 180 countries or territories and the latest measurements find Taiwan improving in rank, from 45th to 42nd, maintaining the freest press in Asia.
The international non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released the index on April 25. Taiwan has climbed three places in rank while several countries in Asia, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, fell down on the index.
In response to the index, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) tweeted, "my administration is committed to ensuring that all journalists in Taiwan can work in a free and safe environment.”
RSF said in a statement that the index reflected growing pressure and hostility towards journalists and media around the world and that such phenomenon was often openly encouraged by individual political leaders or authoritarian regimes.
“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of RSF.
“Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire,” added Deloire.
In a report on Taiwan, RSF indicates that “the main threat to media freedom comes from China, which has been exerting growing economic and political pressure on the Taiwanese media."
“Journalistic independence has also been threatened by Taiwanese officials who have interfered directly in the editorial policies of the state-owned media,” continues the report.
The report echoes the Human Rights Reports released by the U.S. Department of State on April 21. The U.S. government states that Taiwan's press freedom has partially been marred by the growing influence of Chinese enterprises or government. Their influence can interfere with the nature of reports made by Taiwanese journalists and even result in punishment for Taiwan media companies that do not abide by the Chinese government’s policies.
Protecting press freedom has become a dwindling trend throughout Asia, according to the RSF index. The statement points out the Philippines is down six to 133rd place this year because President Rodrigo Duterte has constantly insulted or even intimidated reporters.
India, likewise, has fallen from 136th to 138th on the index. The statement attributes the reason to the fact that “hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay.”
The threat to journalists is not confined to verbal violence. In both the Philippines and India, at least four journalists were assaulted in 2017, says the statement.
In East Asia, South Korea has moved from 63rd to 43rd on the index. A related report describes the newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, as "a breath of fresh air" in a country that has suffered a decade of corruption. Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore stand respectively at 67th, 70th, and 151st.
Some Asian countries continue to sit near the bottom of the index due to “their relentless suppression of criticism and dissent”, says the statement, including Azerbaijan (163rd), Vietnam (175th), and China (176th). North Kore remains last (180th) in the index.