Political polarization, self-censorship and indirect influence from Beijing limit the diversity of opinions represented in the mainstream media in Taiwan, according to a survey of the world’s press released this week by Washington-based Freedom House.
Despite these negatives, the survey said that Taiwan’s media environment was one of the freest in Asia, with a “vigorous and diverse” press that reported aggressively on government policies and alleged official wrongdoing.
Covering the whole of last year, the survey said that as commercial ties between Taiwan and China deepened, signs of self-censorship persisted.
“In addition to a reduced amount of front-page articles about China’s social and political issues, critics cited a surge of entertainment news about Chinese celebrities,” the survey found.
A total of 197 countries were ranked in order of media independence, with the top spot shared by Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.
Taiwan placed 47th, behind the US, which ranked 30th, but well ahead of China, which was 183rd.
North Korea came in last with the most restricted and censored media in the world.
New Zealand ranked 22nd, Australia 33rd and Japan 42nd.
Freedom House reported that global press freedom had fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade and said the decline was driven in part by a major regression in the Middle East, a number of countries in Africa and deterioration in the “relatively open media environment” in the US.
Only 14 percent of the world’s population — one in seven people — lived in countries with a “free” media, while 42 percent had a “partly free” media and 44 percent had a “not free” media.
In the Asia-Pacific region, 5 percent of people had access to a “free” media, while China was said to continue its crackdown on online speech, particularly on microblogs, as it ramped up pressure on foreign journalists.
Press freedom was said to have deteriorated in Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and several Pacific Island states.
The survey said that despite public support, efforts to pass an act to prevent media monopolies in Taiwan stalled last year, with lawmakers unable to reach consensus on the ownership limits.
The legal, political and economic environment for the media in Taiwan was judged to have deteriorated slightly over the past five years.
“China’s media environment remained one of the world’s most restrictive in 2013,” the survey showed.
“After intellectuals and members of civil society urged the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to adhere to the constitution and a rare strike by journalists at a major newspaper sparked broader public pressure to reduce censorship, the authorities responded with campaigns to intensify ideological controls,” it said.
The survey said that despite the robust censorship system in China, journalists, grassroots activists and netizens continued to use creative means to expose official wrongdoing, in some cases forcing the authorities to offer concessions such as the dismissal of corrupt officials and the closure of a notorious labor camp.
However, Chinese citizens’ ability to freely share and access uncensored information, particularly about breaking news, suffered an overall setback last year.
“The new judicial guidelines and the growing number of arrests had an immediate and palpable chilling effect on online discourse, surpassing previous government attempts to increase control over social media,” the survey found.