Despite two years of rule by a reform-minded political party, the National League for Democracy, the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar continues to see a drop in press freedoms, with a six-point drop in ranking over the last year in an annual survey released on Wednesday by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Cambodia meanwhile dropped 10 places to 142 in RSF’s 180-nation ranking this year, while China and Vietnam remained close to the bottom at 176 and 175 in rankings unchanged from last year, the group’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index said.
Also unchanged, with rankings close to or at the very bottom of the survey, were Laos at 170 and North Korea at 180.
In formerly military-ruled Myanmar, “the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has lost all credibility in regards to its obligation to defend the role of the media in a functioning democracy,” RSF said in its report.
After a four-point drop from 128 to 131 noted in last year’s report, which cited frequent self-censorship in reporting on government figures and the country’s powerful military, Myanmar saw further press-freedom violations this year resulting in a fall to 137, the rights group said.
“The worst violations took place after the start of the Rohingya crisis in August 2017,” RSF said.
“The international community now knows that ‘elements of genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ occurred, to use the UN’s terms. But proper reporting on this tragedy from within Myanmar is still impossible because the military continue to deny access.”
Set up by police
Meanwhile, two Reuters journalists who were reporting on the crisis, and who were found in possession of documents describing military operations after being set up by the police, are currently on trial and face possible prison terms of up to 14 years.
In Cambodia, moves against press freedoms by Prime Minister Hun Sen, including the closing of more than 30 independent media outlets, caused a 10-point drop in the country’s ranking, from 132 to 142, RSF said in its report.
“His suppression of independent voices, his increased dominance of the mass media and his meticulous control of social media are a disturbing echo of the methods used in China, which has invested millions of euros in Cambodia’s pro-government media.”
China’s methods have now formed a model of state-controlled news and information increasingly copied not only in Cambodia but also in Vietnam, which at a ranking of 175 is just one point above China in the RSF Index.
“[Vietnam’s] traditional media are completely controlled, but citizen-journalists defend the freedom to inform with great courage—and the government’s response has been merciless,” the rights group says.
“Bloggers used to be sentenced to two years in prison, but now those who blog about banned subjects such as corruption or environmental disasters can expect a 15-year jail term,” according to the RSF report.