Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan gets high scores in global freedom report

DEMOCRACY DOWN:The Freedom House report said world freedoms were declining and though it rated Taiwan highly, it said pending media deals could hurt press liberty

By Nadia Tsao and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff Reporter in Washington, with Staff Writer and AFP

Taiwan continues to enjoy relatively high levels of press freedom, an annual study by the US-based Freedom House showed.

On a scale of one to seven — with one indicating the most free and seven the least free — the watchdog gave Taiwan a score of one for its political rights and two for its civil liberties. These were the same grades the nation scored in 2011.

However, while the Freedom in the World 2013 report did not dedicate a detailed section to Taiwan, an overview singled out two acquisition bids in the nation’s media industry that it said could negatively affect diversity and press freedom.

In July last year, national regulators conditionally approved an acquisition bid for cable television services owned by China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路), the country’s second-largest multiple service owner, by the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團), the report said.

One of the owners of the group, which already controls sizable media resources, has the reputation of being pro-Beijing, it added, referring to Want Want chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明).

The overview also mentioned a controversial case in November last year in which the proprietor of the Hong Kong-listed Next Media Group (壹傳媒集團) made a deal to sell some of its Taiwanese outlets to a consortium comprised of some individuals who had significant corporate interests in China.

The report added that the case was still pending approval by regulatory agencies.

The annual assessment found that 90 countries now enjoyed full freedom, up from 87 in 2011, but that 27 countries had seen new restrictions imposed on rights of assembly, expression and press freedoms.

China was labeled as “not free” for a 12th consecutive year, scoring a seven for political rights and a six for civil liberties.

The report said democracy around the world was in decline last year for the seventh year in a row as the Arab Spring led nervous autocratic leaders to clamp down on any stirrings of dissent.

About 3 billion people, or 43 percent of the global population, enjoyed full political rights and civil liberties, while 1.6 billion resided in partly free countries.

By contrast, approximately 34 percent of the world’s population, or 2.3 billion people, lived in countries deemed not free.

Russia, Iran — which stepped up its repression of journalists and bloggers — and Venezuela — where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was re-elected against a “badly skewed” electoral playing field — were singled out by the report.

“Our findings point to the growing sophistication of modern authoritarians,” said Arch Puddington, Freedom House vice president for research. “They are flexible, they distort and abuse the legal framework, they are adept at the techniques of modern propaganda, but especially since the Arab Spring, they are nervous, which accounts for their intensified persecution of popular movements for change.”

There were some successes for democracy, with the most dramatic improvements since 2008 seen in Libya, Tunisia and Myanmar. Egypt, Zimbabwe, Moldova and the Ivory Coast were also among those where repressive restrictions were eased.

However, Mali, where rebel soldiers ousted an elected government last year, topped the list of nations that had lost the most freedoms.

The most serious declines in freedom in the Asia-Pacific region were in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

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