Taiwan’s ranking for press freedom fell three notches from last year to 50th, but it remained the best in East Asia, according to the World Press Freedom Index 2014 released yesterday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The retreat in Taiwan’s global ranking reflected China’s growing economic clout, which has allowed Beijing to extend its influence over the media in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, “which had been largely spared political censorship until recently,” the Paris, France-based media rights watchdog said.
“Media independence is now in jeopardy in these three territories, which are either ‘special administrative regions’ or claimed by Beijing,” the report said.
Despite the setback, Taiwan remained the top-ranked East Asian country for press freedom in the Reporters Without Borders index, fifth in the Asia-Pacific region behind New Zealand (ninth overall), Australia (28th), Samoa (40th) and Papua New Guinea (44th).
As well as in Taiwan, press freedom throughout East Asia took a step backward last year, according to the index.
Japan dropped to 59th from 53rd, South Korea tumbled to 57th from 50th, Hong Kong fell to 61st from 58th and China fell to 175th place from 173rd.
Finland retained the top position in the overall list, ahead of the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Andorra.
In its annual report, the group, known by its French acronym RSF, warned of the “growing threat worldwide” from the “tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner.”
The US was singled out for the conviction of WikiLeaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning, its pursuit of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the US National Security Agency, and the secret seizure of telephone records from The Associated Press.
RSF said the US had suffered “one of the most significant declines” in press freedom last year, dropping 13 places to 46th in the 180-country index, wedged between Romania and Haiti.
“Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it,” RSF said.
Britain dropped three places in the ranking to 33rd place, with RSF blaming the “disgraceful pressure” it put on daily newspaper the Guardian over its reporting of Snowden’s revelations of widespread spying by the US.
Syria remained especially deadly for journalists last year, with RSF reporting nearly 130 media professionals killed in the country since the civil war began in March 2011.
Syria’s overall ranking of fourth from the bottom was unchanged, but the report raised concerns about a surge in kidnappings.
Armed conflicts hurt press freedom elsewhere, with Mali falling 22 spots to 122nd and the Central African Republic dropping 43 places to 109th.
At the bottom once again were Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan, described as “news and information black holes and living hells for the journalists who inhabit them.”