Asian Media Hamstrung By Threats, Censorship


A Chinese news vendor hides behind her kiosk in Beijing. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG—Only a tiny percentage of people living in Asia have access to free media, watchdog groups reported ahead of World Press Freedom Day, while journalists in the region remain hamstrung by violence, intimidation, and censorship.

In its report "Freedom of the Press 2005: A Global Survey of Media Independence," the nonprofit group Freedom House noted that “only 7 percent of Asia's population had access to free media in 2004, primarily because of ...China's large population.”

Only seven percent of Asia's population had access to free media in 2004, primarily because of ...China's large population. Asia is also home to two of the worst rated countries in the world, Burma and North Korea, which have extremely repressive media environments.

“Asia is also home to two of the worst rated countries in the world, Burma and North Korea, which have extremely repressive media environments,” the report said.

Independent media throughout the region remain stymied by violence and censorship, Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, RSF) said, calling 2004 “horribly similar to the year that preceded it."

China leads world in jailed journalists

Sixteen of the 53 journalists killed worldwide last year died in Asia, excluding Iraq. Six were killed in the Philippines and four in Bangladesh, it said.

Of the world's 107 imprisoned journalists as of Jan. 1, 2005, 46 were in Asia, including a world-leading 27 in China, one of whom faces the death penalty for divulging state secrets, the report said.

The Burmese junta has harassed or arrested journalists critical of its military rule, while North Korea "kept an iron grip on its journalists, reduced to a pathetic role as propagandists."

It said that the world's established democracies and the Chinese government had "seized on the pretext of the fight against terrorism to justify attacks on press freedom."

In China, authorities have increased scrambling of programs on Radio Free Asia and Voice of Tibet and blocked Chinese-language Web pages of The Wall Street Journal and German radio Deutsche Welle, RSF added.

Chinese editor barred from accepting prize

A Chinese editor whose newspaper broke controversial stories was meanwhile reportedly ordered to skip a ceremony where he was to receive a U.N. press freedom award.

Cheng Yizhong, former editor in chief of the Southern Metropolis News in the southern province of Guangdong, was to receive the U.S.$25,000 prize on Tuesday in Dakar, Senegal.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, citing an unnamed source, reported that he was ordered not to attend the ceremony.

As for not being able to go to Dakar, I feel very regretful and apologetic...

The South China Morning Post

"As for not being able to go to Dakar, I feel very regretful and apologetic," the South China Morning Post quoted Cheng as saying in an Internet posting. It said he called on Chinese journalists to “speak the truth.”

The Southern Metropolis News is known as one of China's most daring papers as a result of its routine reports on corruption and social issues.

Editors held, jailed

It acquired international celebrity in December 2003 when it announced the first case in a new SARS outbreak—before Beijing had reported it to the World Health Organization (WHO),

Cheng was named 2005 recipient of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for breaking "new ground in Chinese journalism," a U.N. statement said.

Cheng, who now works for the newspaper Southern Sports , was detained for five months last year with two colleagues.

Authorities said they were being questioned in a corruption case, but journalists said it was an attempt to stifle aggressive reporting.

Cheng's lawyer said prosecutors decided against charging him, though his two colleagues are serving prison terms of six and eight years for corruption.

In New York, the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Tuesday today condemned Chinese authorities' refusal to allow Cheng to receive the award.

CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper called it "a sad reminder of the Chinese government's failure to reach international standards of press freedom that it continues to persecute its bravest journalists."

Outrage at reporter's 10-year jail term

Media freedom groups meanwhile condemned the sentencing April 30 of Chinese journalist Shi Tao for allegedly providing top state secrets to overseas organizations.

The ruling was handed down in a closed trial in the Intermediate People's Court of Changsha in central China's Hunan Province. Shi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and deprived of political rights for two years, court source said, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

Shi, 37, worked at Dangdai Shang Bao ( Contemporary Trade News ), in Changsha, from Feb. 11, 2004 to April 22, 2004.

Xinhua said Shi had been found guilty of posting online his notes regarding a government document read to the Dangdai Shang Bao editorial board in April 2004. Xinhua said prosecutors told the court that the contents were classified and that Shi's notes had been picked up by several overseas Web sites.

But the New York-based CPJ said the document was a Central Propaganda Department directive issued to editors on April 20, 2004, the contents of which are widely available in Chinese-language news Web sites based outside of China.

The document's summary lists particular areas of concern to the government. It also warns of the return of overseas dissidents to China to mark the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations on June 4, 1989.


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