Taiwan ranked 35th in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, up from 38th last year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said yesterday, but added that its journalists suffer from a “very polarized environment dominated by sensationalism and pursuit of profit.”
Taiwan moved up due to changes in other countries’ rankings, not because the environment facing Taiwanese journalists has improved, said Aleksandra Bielakowska, RSF advocacy officer of the East Asia Bureau.
“Journalists in Taiwan still suffer from media polarization, sensationalism and pressure from media owners, making it difficult to conduct quality reporting,” Bielakowska said.
Photo: Wu Cheng-feng, Taipei Times
Taiwan does not have to look far for positive examples for press freedom, she said.
Timor-Leste and New Zealand, both in the Asia-Pacific region, ranked No. 10 and No. 13 respectively in terms of press freedom, she added.
“Taiwan is indeed a great democracy and the level of press freedom remains at the top tier, but I believe Taiwan could do much better if a few changes were applied to the media environment,” RSF East Asia Bureau director Cedric Alviani said.
However, none of the two main political parties in Taiwan have shown a willingness to seriously engage in improving the media environment, he said.
While the government has recognized disinformation as a major threat for Taiwan, nothing sufficient has been done to address the mistrust in the news media, Alviani said.
“We are calling on the Taiwanese government and political parties to work together and improve the situation before the upcoming presidential and legislative elections, in which major risks to democracy are involved,” he said.
The annual survey among journalists in 180 countries identified Norway, Ireland and Denmark as the top three nations where press freedom is in a “good condition.”
Norway topped the ranking for the seventh consecutive year, while Ireland entered the top three for the first time.
These countries have very low social acceptance of any conflict of interests, whether the issue is about journalists, media order or media outlets, Alviani said.
“This allows journalists to focus on the work without compromising the quality and integrity of their work,” he said.
However, except some European countries, the condition of press freedom in most nations were “satisfactory,” “problematic,” “difficult” or “very serious,” the list showed.
Vietnam, China and North Korea ranked 178th, 179th and 180th on the ranking respectively. It was China’s lowest ranking since the survey began in 2002.
“North Korea is more closed than China. However, China’s rhetoric, logic and method of repressing journalists under [Chinese] President Xi Jinping (習近平) has become closer to that employed by North Korea,” Alviani said.
“The only silver lining is that the control of media in China has become so extreme that it might be difficult for China to keep exporting its model of information control to other countries,” he said.
Bielakowska said that 114 journalists were imprisoned or detained in China, making it the world’s largest jailer of journalists.
Chinese independent journalist Huang Xueqin (黃雪琴) was not given a fair trial before she was tortured and imprisoned for more than a year, she said.
More journalists in China are being imprisoned after being accused of threatening national security and subverting the government, including Australian-Chinese Cheng Lei (成蕾), Australian-Chinese commentator Yang Hengjun (楊恆均) and Swedish-Chinese publisher Gui Minhai (桂明海), Bielakowska said.
Press freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated so much that it has become almost impossible to report government affairs independently, she said.
Journalists in Hong Kong could get life imprisonment for contravening the Hong Kong National Security Law, such as Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai (黎智英), she added.
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