One-party communist states China, North Korea and Vietnam joined military-controlled Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government in a top media freedom watchdog’s list of the 10 countries where the press is most censored.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent U.S. monitor group, published its annual list Tuesday based on analysis of media suppression tactics such as imprisonment or harassment of journalists, repressive laws and restrictions on the Internet.
In North Korea, ranked the second most repressive country for media, the official Korean Central News Agency, a government mouthpiece provided “nearly all the content” of newspapers , periodicals, and broadcasts, the CPJ said.
“Internet is restricted to the political elite, but some schools and state institutions have access to a tightly controlled intranet called Kwangmyong,” said the CPJ report.
Sixth-ranked Vietnam, one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists with at least 16 behind bars, “allows no privately held print or broadcast outlets” and by law requires all media to serve as “the mouthpiece of Party organizations,” the CPJ said.
“Forbidden topics include the activities of political dissidents and activists; factional divisions inside the Communist Party; human rights issues; and any mention of ethnic differences between the country’s once-divided northern and southern regions,” said the CPJ report.
The Hanoi government blocks access to websites critical of the government, while “independent bloggers who report on sensitive issues have faced persecution through street-level attacks, arbitrary arrests, surveillance, and harsh prison sentences for anti-state charges,” it said.
China, ranked 8th most repressive, has at least 44 journalists imprisoned in 2015, the most since the CPJ began its annual census in 1990, with 29 held on the anti-state charges that have represented an increasingly common method of silencing critics.
CPJ said document 9, a secret 2014 white paper which was leaked to the international press, directs media to reject the concept of “universal values” and the promotion of “the West’s view of media,” it said.
Document No. 9 lists "seven taboos" to be avoided in public debate, including online and in China's schools and universities, including democracy, freedom of the press, judicial independence and criticism of the party's historical record.
“Document 9 made it clear that the role of the media is to support the party’s unilateral rule,” the CPJ report said. It noted the case of Gao Yu, who was sentenced to seven years in jail last week for leaking Document No. 9 to a Hong Kong-based media outlet.
Ninth-ranked Myanmar, which in 2011 began a transition from harsh military rule to a quasi-civilian administration, ended more than four decades of pre-publication censorship in 2012, but retains tight controls on media, the CPJ said.
“The Printers and Publishers Registration Law, enacted in March 2014, bans news that could be considered insulting to religion, disturbing to the rule of law, or harmful to ethnic unity,” the report said.
“National security-related laws, including the colonial-era 1923 Official Secrets Act, are used to threaten and imprison journalists who report on sensitive military matters,” it said.
The CPJ cited the case of five journalists from the independent weekly newspaper Unity who were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor for reporting on a secretive military facility – a sentence that was later reduced to seven years on appeal.
The other countries on the list of worst press censors are Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Cuba.