Reporters Without Borders Picks Taipei over Hong Kong

Photo Credit: Corbis/達志影像
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RSF told The New York Times the organization originally wanted to open its Asia office in Hong Kong but the organization was concerned about 'a lack of legal certainty' and surveillance of its members.

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Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters sans frontières (RSF), plans to open its first Asia bureau in Taiwan.

The global press freedom watchdog will use the Taipei bureau to focus on issues across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Mongolia.

“The choice of Taiwan was made not only with regards to its central geographic location and ease of operating logistics, but also considering its status of being the freest place in Asia in our annual Press Freedom Index ranking,” says RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire.

Deloire told The New York Times the organization originally wanted to open its Asia office in Hong Kong but the organization was concerned about “a lack of legal certainty” and surveillance of its members.

According to RSF, Taiwan ranked 51 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The organization says that the main threat to Taiwanese media freedom comes from China, which has been exerting growing economic and political pressure on the Taiwanese media.

“The editorial line of some privately-owned media has changed radically and it is no longer rare to find media outlets taking a line similar to the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda,” RSF says.

It also says that journalistic independence has been threatened by Taiwanese officials “who have interfered directly in the editorial policies of the state-owned media.”

China ranks 176 out of 180, and President Xi Jinping (習近平) is on RSF’s list of “predators of press freedom.”

Hong Kong is ranked at 69. RSF says that while Hong Kong journalists are still able to cover “sensitive stories” involving the local government and China, it is wary that the need for reporters to fight to protect their editorial positions from Beijing’s influence is “increasingly noticeable.”

The organization says the purchase of Hong Kong media by Chinese companies is “extremely disturbing” and points to the purchase of Hong Kong’s major broadsheet, South China Morning Post, by Chinese internet giant Alibaba.

And it adds, “the most outspoken journalists, such as those working for the Apple Daily newspaper, are exposed to violence by the Chinese Communist Party’s henchmen.”

Japan is ranked 72 and RSF says that while the Japanese media are some of the most powerful in the world they are not free to cover “state secrets.”

“This rather vague category is protected by a very harsh law that deters journalists from embarking on investigations. The Fukushima nuclear disaster, the imperial family’s personal lives and the defense of Japan are all ‘state secrets,’” the organization says.

South Korea, meanwhile, ranked 70 last year – though that ranking was impacted by the deep tension between the media and now-ousted President Park Geun-hye. RSF is also concerned by “a national security law under which any article or broadcast ‘favourable’ to North Korea is punishable by imprisonment.”

“This is one of the main grounds for online censorship,” RSF says.

RSF’s Taipei office will be run by Cedric Alviani, a French national, graduate from the CUEJ journalism school in Strasbourg, longtime Taiwan resident and former general manager of the France Taiwan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIFT).

In a press statement, the organization also noted the ongoing support long-running support of Taiwan-based Chinese dissident Wu’er Kaixi.

Editor: Olivia Yang

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