HONG KONG—North Korea, China, and Burma are once again among the countries with the poorest record on press freedom, according to an annual index published by Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
North Korea, where media workers simply write what they are told to by a Stalinist ruling elite, was bottom of the fourth annual World Press Freedom Index released Friday.
The group described North Korea, along with Eritrea and Turkmenistan, as a black holes for news, “where the privately-owned media [are] not allowed and freedom of expression does not exist.”
“Journalists there simply relay government propaganda. Anyone out of step is harshly dealt with. A word too many, a commentary that deviates from the official line or a wrongly-spelled name and the author may be thrown in prison or draw the wrath of those in power,” RSF said in a statement.
“Harassment, psychological pressure, intimidation and round-the-clock surveillance are routine.”
Harassment, psychological pressure, intimidation and round-the-clock surveillance are routine.
Elsewhere in East Asia, Burma came 163rd, China 159th, Vietnam 158th, and Laos 155th.
The region was among the worst in the world for news, “where journalists have the toughest time and where government repression or armed groups prevent the media operating freely,” RSF said.
The group said that a limited amount of media privatization in China had done little to alter the basic realities of reporting there.
“The government’s propaganda department monitors the media, which were forbidden to mention dozens of sensitive subjects in the past year,” the statement said.
Beijing University professor Jiao Guobiao, of the news and media center at China’s prestigious Beijing University, said the large number of cyberdissidents imprisoned recently for posting articles critical of the government could have worsened China’s overall rating.
“As soon as an online media began to emerge in China, a lot of independent online authors ran into trouble with the authorities,” Jiao told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“Some of them went to prison, so this will have contributed a lot of points to China’s poor score on RSF’s index,” he said.
In a separate statement, RSF strongly condemned the continued detention in China of Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong on charges of spying for Taiwan.
“Reporters Without Borders voices outrage at the continuing detention of Hong Kong-based reporter Ching Cheong, who today completes his sixth month in solitary confinement on a trumped-up charge of spying for Taiwan,” the group said.
As soon as an online media began to emerge in China, a lot of independent online authors ran into trouble with the authorities.
The 55-year-old correspondent of the Singapore-based Straits Times was arrested by Chinese political police April 22 while on his way to the southern city of Guangzhou.
The ranking of Vietnam (158th) improved slightly, as no journalists were currently in jail, but the ruling Communist Party still controls the media, it said. Cambodia came in at 90th place.
No improvement was seen in Burma, and the replacement of some of the ruling generals did not benefit the media, RSF said.
“The much-awaited release of pro-opposition journalists did not happen and one of them, Win Tin, began his 16th year in prison. The censorship office monitors the press, even the death announcements columns,” it said.
The indices award points to countries for every incursion into media freedom, including the number of journalists currently in prison.
Northern European countries had the fewest points, taking up most of the top 10 places, with Denmark leading the world for press freedom. The United States came 44th in its own territory, and 137th for its record in Iraq.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Shi Shan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.