Wed, May 04, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Freedom House lowers Taiwan’s press ranking

LESS FREE:The nation has fallen five places in the world rankings since 2008 and DPP legislators were quick to link the decline with President Ma Ying-jeou’s taking office

By William Lowther, Shih Hsiu-chuan and Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporters in WASHINGTON and TAIPEI

Taiwan continued to drop down the list of countries with a free press, a new global study on press freedom shows.

In a survey released on Monday by the Washington-based think tank Freedom House, Taiwan ranked 48th in the world in press freedom last year. It ranked 47th in 2009 and 43rd in 2008.

The nation scored a total of 24 negative points compared with 23 in 2009 and 20 in each of the previous three years.

On a sliding scale, the fewer points a country scores, the freer its press is judged to be in the Freedom of the Press 2011 report.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan now ranks seventh, behind Palau, New Zealand, the Marshall Islands, Australia, Japan and Micronesia. As recently as 2007, it was ranked fourth in the region.

“Some journalists [in Taiwan] voiced fears that press freedom was backsliding in 2010,” the report said.

“A growing trend of marketing disguised as news reports, a proposed legal amendment that would limit descriptions of crime and violence in the media, and licensing obstacles all contributed to these concerns,” it said.

China could be playing a role in Taiwan’s decline, the report said.

“As commercial ties between Taiwan and mainland China deepened in 2010 with the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, press freedom advocates raised concerns that media owners and some journalists were whitewashing news about China to protect their own financial interests,” it said.

“Critics perceived Beijing’s influence in a column that ran on June 4 in the Want Daily newspaper. The column, which commemorated historical events on both sides of the Taiwan Straits [sic], failed to mention the military crackdown on protesters in Beijing on that date in 1989. The China Times Group, the parent of Want Daily, is owned by Tsai Eng-meng [蔡衍明], a businessman with significant commercial interests in mainland China,” the report said.

The report said press freedom in Taiwan had been “hard won” and that journalists were alarmed by a proposal to amend the Children and Youth Welfare Act (兒童及少年福利法).

“Journalists and press freedom advocates raised concerns that the law could be loosely interpreted to limit a broad range of legitimate reporting,” the report said.

It also said that some critics “questioned the fairness” of the broadcast licensing process.

“The National Communications Commission, which is tasked with awarding licenses, came under fire for setting roadblocks in the path of several media ventures,” it said.

“The commission repeatedly denied requests by Next Media, the parent of top-grossing news publications in Hong Kong and Taiwan, to launch a cable TV station. In rejecting the application, the Taiwanese regulatory body cited its doubts that Next TV would ‘fulfill the social responsibility’ expected of a broadcaster, an explanation that commentators noted was subjective and open to broad interpretation,” it said.

Freedom House said disputes continued to plague the Public Television Service, including one in which the president and executive vice president were dismissed.

“Their removals sparked concerns about government interference and the public television’s neutrality,” it said.

Freedom House said the issue of “embedded marketing,” or advertising passing off as news, came to the forefront in December when Dennis Huang (黃哲斌), a veteran reporter at the Chinese-language China Times, resigned in protest over the proliferation of paid -advertising masquerading as news reports in which both big business and government “buy positive coverage.”

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