Sat, Apr 20, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Press freedom needs defenders

After four years of steady advancement in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, Taiwan kept its ranking, 42nd out of 180 nations and territories, but lost its position as best in Asia to South Korea, which last year was tied with Taiwan, but this year advanced to 40th.

Although the group said that Taiwan’s media industry is “satisfactory,” it added that the government has only taken a few concrete measures to improve editorial independence in a very polarized media environment “dominated by sensationalism and the pursuit of profit,” and to encourage the media to raise the quality of public debate.

It also warned that Beijing is “putting pressure on Taiwanese media owners, who often have business interests on the mainland. Beijing is also suspected of orchestrating online disinformation campaigns — a threat that could lead to questionable retaliatory measures by Taiwan, such as refusing visas to Chinese journalists regarded as hostile.”

Ironically, just hours after the report was released, the Mainland Affairs Council announced that it would tighten the screening process and granting of entry permits or visas to people employed by certain Hong Kong and Macau-based media outlets.

Council Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said that the move was necessitated by several instances of reporters from Hong Kong and Macau entering the nation on tourist permits or visas and then illegally engaging in media work.

While polarization and the limits to editorial independence have long been issues in Taiwan, they have become increasingly important in the past few years amid growing evidence of Chinese efforts to interfere with traditional and new media.

They are even more important as the nation prepares for its next presidential and legislative elections in January next year.

The index makes for sobering reading, especially as it was released just days after Pulitzer Prize administrator Dana Canedy announced this year’s winners with a reminder of why journalism and the media are so important, not just to the US, but everywhere.

In praising the staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s student newspaper — who produced an issue with the obituaries of 17 coaches and classmates killed in February last year — as well as several journalists who were killed while doing their jobs, Canedy spoke of the “media’s unwavering commitment to bearing witness ... in service to a nation whose very existence depends on a free and dedicated press... As the founding fathers knew well, there can be no democracy without it.”

Taiwan’s fledgling democracy owes its existence to press freedoms gained after the lifting of martial law.

A review of RSF’s annual reports reminds readers of just how quickly such freedoms can be eroded.

Hong Kong this year fell three places to 73rd — the same ranking it had two years ago — due to Beijing’s influence over the territory, but it has fallen 25 places in the past decade.

China retained its ranking near the bottom, but slipped down one place from last year to 177, four lower than its ranking in 2013, due to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) continued assault on civil society and human rights.

As the report said, Xi’s embrace of new technology “has succeeded in imposing a social model in China based on control of news and information, and online surveillance of its citizens. At the same time, he has been trying to export this oppressive model by promoting a ‘new world media order’ under China’s influence.”

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