Asia's press freedom worsens | Connect Asia

Asia's press freedom worsens

Asia's press freedom worsens

Updated 30 January 2013, 16:23 AEST

Press freedom across most parts of Asia has worsened, with Burma being a rare bright spot and positive changes in Afghanistan labelled "precarious" as foreign troops withdraw.

That's according to the latest Press Freedom Index, prepared by Reporters Without Borders.

Authoritarian States like North Korea, China, Vietnam and Laos continue to figure right at the bottom of the list, while Cambodia and Malaysia considered to be drifting towards authoritarianism.

The group noted a general decline in South Asia and Japanese restrictions on reporting the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Benjamin Ismail, head of the Asia Pacific Desk, Reporters Without Borders

ISMAIL: Kim Jong-un in North Korea took power, we haven't seen any significant changes and it's the same for Xi Jinping, it is in both cases a continuation of the policy for Kim Jong-un, that was the policy of his father, Kim Jong-Il, and further his ruling not totally alone, but with the military junta, which doesn't want the society to change the political control. They want to keep their political control. And for Xi Jinping, before he has been appointed new Secretary General by the, during the 18th Congress. He has very strong harsh statements regarding the situation in Tibet and so far, we are still informed almost on a daily basis of violation of press freedom and in these regions, such as Tibet and Qin Zang, but also for cases concerning the mainstream media located in Beijing or Shanghai or even the foreign press recently reported for the New York Times, has been asked to leave the country and that might be related to the story run by the New York Times on the Wen Jiabao's fortune.

COCHRANE: One of the biggest falls from year to year has been Malaysia, which is very much a tale of two mediums, with strict control of traditional media, but a very different approach to online news media. What is it about Malaysia that caused it to fall so dramatically in the index?

ISMAIL: If you look, the previous position of Malaysia, it is not so far compared to five or eight years ago. Even though there are actually records since Malaysia, since the press freedom index has been created in 2002. The main problem in Malaysia is that the mainstream press is pretty much controlled by the authorities and the independent and free information can mainly be seen online and these media, while trying to get information are facing big reprisals by the government or even if it's not reprisals, they are trying to restrain them for developing themselves, for developing the means of doing information, of producing accurate and the free information.

One of the leading websites is Malaysia Kini which has asked the Ministry of Information to have a license to get a print version of the paper, but that was refused and they know that they are media very critical towards the government and they don't want to see their voices relayed across the country.

COCHRANE: Malaysia you describe in a report as drifting towards authoritarianism and you put Cambodia in that same category, saying that conditions for the media are critical there. What is it that is so critical for the media environment in Cambodia?

ISMAIL: There are two trends, I would say one is the increase of the control by the government, by the authorities. They need dissident voice that is again critical of the government actions internal or foreign policy is heavily sanctioned. One of the documented cases is the head of the Bee-Hive Radio, Mam Sonando, who has been condemned of 20 years of prison, because the charges that were pressed against him are linked to some kind of terrorist activities but the real motive behind that is the programs and that his radio is producing and the criticism that is raised often by his media towards the government. So that's for one aspect. The other I think is a growing insecurity in Cambodia. Several journalists have been killed and some of them are journalists/environmental activists and they are exposing cases of corruption, which is also growing in Cambodia. And some of them were shot by an unidentified shooters and that shows that nobody is safe when it comes to covering these very sensitive topics of big environmental corporations or foreign enterprises which are involved in logging activities and then the journalists try to expose the illegal activities or the corruption with the local officials that leads to expropriation of persistence land grabbing.

COCHRANE: One of the bright spots in South East Asia has been Burma, and not just in a media sense, but more generally. But when we're talking about media. It's jumped 18 places up the press freedom index. We've seen journalists released from prison, censorship boards scrapped, a lot of progress. Now, but it does remain towards the bottom. It's 151 out of 179 countries. What else can the nation do to improve its press freedom?

ISMAIL: The big challenge in 2013 for Burma will be legislative reform. Now the fact many things have changed, and it appears many things have changed, for journalists the reality is not at all the same. They can really think of a brighter future, think of developing the media. But the legislative framework, which is a repressive one is still in place and that needs to be abolished, so there's a huge parliamentarian work to be done. Many laws, such as 1962 Printing Press Law and the 2004 Electronic Act are still in place and they, I mean journalists, virtually journalists and bloggers could be condemned for under these laws, even though it is not the fact and they could be in jail. So decriminalisation of the press will definitely be the next step.

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