Taiwan Enjoys Best Press Freedom, Chinese Repression Goes To New Heights

Taiwan Enjoys Best Press Freedom, Chinese Repression Goes To New Heights
Photo Credit: Corbis/達志影像

Translated and compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

Taiwan ranks 51 in the latest World Press Freedom Index, which is widely seen as the benchmark of press freedom around the world.

On April 20, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), a France-based international non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates and safeguards freedom of information, released its 2016 World Press Freedom Index report.

Taiwan is ranked 51 among 180 countries in this year’s index, which is the same as last year’s result.

According to RWB, the press freedom report is published each year in spring and the index is made based on “an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries.”

Even though Taiwan ranks the highest among all the Asian nations in the index, Delphine Halgand, US director of Reporters Without Borders, says that there is still concerns over Taiwan’s press freedom. She says that some people are worried about China’s influence over Taiwan’s media and some Taiwanese media have already changed its stance toward a more pro-China position.

Halgand also mentions that some media in Taiwan are manipulated to cater to the interests of their owners and the freedom of information has been hurt as a result.

According to the report, the Chinese communist party continues to suppress press freedom in that country and has “taken the repression to new heights.” “Journalists were spared nothing, not even abductions, televised forced confessions and threats to relatives,” the report states.

During a recent tour of China’s leading news agencies, President Xi Jinping said that media must love, protect, and report for the benefits of the Communist Party. “He could not have made his totalitarian view of the media’s role any clearer,” the report writes of Xi.

Chinese businesses are increasingly interested in buying media companies in Hong Kong.

Halgand says that China has been one of the worst countries in the press freedom index for years. This year, China remains the country that imprisons the most journalists around the world. Halgand adds that China has drawn a clear line that splits the media who support the government and those who don’t.

According to the report, most press freedom situations in Asia-Pacific area have deteriorated over the past year. Japan passed the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which results in a drop of 11 places to 72 in the ranking. The tension between the Park Geun-hye administration and the local media has dragged South Korea down ten places in the index to 70.

Finland has been the number one on the list for the six consecutive year. The US ranks 41, improving from 49 in last year’s ranking. Hong Kong goes up a place to 69. The last five countries in the index are China, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.

RWB says in a statement that this year’s index reflects “the intensity of the attacks on journalistic freedom and independence by governments, ideologies and private-sector interests during the past year.”

Europe still has the most press freedom, followed by Africa, America, and Asia. North Africa and the Middle East are the un-friendliest areas that impose multitudes of constraints on journalists.

Christophe Deloire, secretary general of RWB, expresses his apprehension over the overall media environment around the world in a statement, saying, “It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.”

Taiwan’s press freedom has been threatened by China

Taiwan has the most press freedom in the Greater China area, but the country’s media still has some problems and its freedom has been gradually threatened by China in the past decade.

Taiwan’s constitution protects freedom of speech and the press. According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report published in 2015, Taiwanese government and the courts generally respect the protection in practice.

In addition, Taiwan passed Freedom of Government Information Law in 2005, which ensures public access to information held by government agencies, including financial audit reports.

Journalists are rarely threatened and little violence toward reporters happens on the island, although some isolated incidents have occurred.

The problems of Taiwanese media include politically biased reporting, breaching of journalistic ethics, manipulation towards personal interests, and threatening from China.

The politically biased reporting results from the polarizing situation where many media outlets take a heavy stance towards either Kuomintang (KMT) or Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Freedom House says that some Taiwanese journalists reported that news agencies were pressuring them to take sides in a major election in 2014.

The breaching of journalistic ethics is another issue. The Ministry of Economic Affairs fined the China Times in 2012 for airing embedded advertising from the Chinese Communist government. Besides, some news organizations package advertisers’ stories as “news” and foist them on viewers.

In an article titled “Taiwan’s Changing Media Landscape,” Economist reporter Jane Rickards, writing for Taiwan Business TOPICS, says, “Many consider the biggest threat to Taiwan’s media freedom to be giant neighbor China and its economic clout.”

Freedom House states that media companies in Taiwan are leaning towards the Chinese market because of higher revenue potential. Those companies want to keep a good relationship with China.

The China Times has been the subject of the concern. The newspaper was one of the most liberal media outlets in Taiwan. Yet, that changed in 2008 when Tsai Eng-meng, who is one of Taiwan’s richest men and holds a pro-China stance, bought the China Times Media Group consisting of a newspaper company, a terrestrial TV station and a cable TV group, and so on.

Since then, the China Times Media Group has been widely considered as pro-China and Tsai has been reported to heavily interfere with the editorial of the company.

Despite all of these problems, Marcus Brauchli, a former Washington Post executive editor, still points out that Taiwan is the only place in the in the global Chinese market to have a free and independent media, which is one of the most important advantages of Taiwan’s media environment.

Edited by Edward White

“2016 World Press Freedom Index ­– leaders paranoid about journalists” (RWB)
“A nice postcard from the Pacific, but not Asia” (RWB)
“Taiwan’s Changing Media Landscape” (TNL)
Radio Taiwan International
Liberty Times
“‘Deep And Disturbing’ Decline Found In World Media Freedom” (Radio Free Europe)