Sat, Jun 08, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Protecting freedom of the press

Taiwan has the most press freedom in East Asia, the US-based Freedom House said in its Freedom and the Media: A Downward Spiral report released on Tuesday.

Taiwan scored 4 on the five-point scale, one of only 35 nations to do so, while Japan, South Korea and Mongolia tied with 3, Hong Kong rated a 2 and China was given zero.

The report said that freedom of the media has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade, including in some of the most influential democracies, and that the impact on the state of democracy is what makes threats to global media freedom so dangerous. The decline in global press freedom closely tracked an overall decline in political rights and civil liberties, it said.

The group should know. It began, in 1980, to publish an annual Freedom of the Press report, a companion to the annual Freedom in the World reports launched in 1972, which analyze media independence in the world for the previous year.

It continued to do so until 2017, when the report for 2016 rated Taiwan as “free,” with a score of 25 out of 100, the same as the UK, while Norway ranked first, with a score of 8. North Korea was bottom of the rankings with a score of 98 and China had 87.

However, what makes the Freedom and the Media: A Downward Spiral report such compelling — and gutwrenching — reading are the three companion pieces: The Implications for Democracy of China’s Globalizing Media Influence, A New Toolbox for Co-opting the Media and Why Social Media Are Still Worth Saving.

For Taiwan, the first of the three is of crucial importance, and it echoes warnings given in a Reporters Without Borders report released on March 26, China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order, which drew a link between Beijing’s attempts to dominate the international media and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) Belt and Road Initiative.

The Implications for Democracy says that the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and various proxies have rapidly gained influence on media production outside of China, enhancing the CCP’s ability to “interfere aggressively in other countries, should it choose to do so.”

It says that they are influencing the content of news media around the world “through three primary strategies: promoting the CCP’s narratives, suppressing critical viewpoints and managing content delivery systems.”

It warns that they “have the potential to undermine key features of democratic governance and best practices for media freedom,” flouting transparency rules, undermining competition, establishing channels for political meddling and undermining the rule of law.

The report cites several examples, many of which have been reported in the pages of this newspaper, including fake news stories originating in China aimed at undermining the government, offers to buy popular pro-Taiwan Facebook pages and attempts by a company owned by a China-friendly media tycoon to purchase stakes in a major cable company.

The report makes several recommendations on steps governments can take to counter Beijing, including improving transparency requirements on advertorial spending and economic ties to the Chinese government.

To counter the overall increase in media representation worldwide, Freedom House urges governments and others to take action against breaches of media freedom, including speaking out against violence against journalists, standing up for the value of a free press, supporting civic education about the need for press freedom and supporting technology that increases journalistic freedom.

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