Philippines among worst-ranked countries in press freedom index
SEVEN Asian countries, including the Philippines, are in the bottom 20 of the fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index released by the international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The Philippines is among the worst-ranked countries for 2006 at 142nd place (in a tie with the Democratic Republic of Congo out of 168 countries surveyed), further slipping three places with the continuing murders of journalists and increased legal harassment in the form of libel suits, including those filed by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The country is now in the ignominious company of Bangladesh (137), Singapore (146), Vietnam (155), Laos (156), Pakistan (157) and Burma (164). (Download the Asia Index.)
Since it was introduced in 2002 to provide a worldwide index of countries according to their respect for press freedom, the RSF Index has documented the deterioration of press freedom in the Philippines under Arroyo’s rule, with the country sliding down the rankings from 89th in 2002 to 118th in 2003. Though it improved to 111th in 2004, the country endured a sharp decline to 139th in 2005.
Though it moved up slightly, with fewer journalists killed, Bangladesh recorded more than 80 cases of censorship. Singapore slipped six places due to the new legal action by the government against the foreign media. Vietnam also moved up three places but it continued to stifle freedom of expression online while Laos remained in the same position, with its media obeying the information ministry’s orders.
The past year also saw Asian dictatorships step up their repression of the media with Burma slipping another place, with seven journalists imprisoned, 11 arrested and prior censorship maintained. Despite fairly outspoken media outlets, Pakistan saw kidnappings of journalists and physical attacks by police or intelligence agents.
Two of the three worst free expression violators are also Asian countries — North Korea (168) and Turkmenistan (167). Th RSF index reported that Kim Jong-il, the all-powerful North Korean leader, continues to totally control the media. In Turkmenistan, the torture death of journalist Ogulsapar Muradova, RSF said, shows that the country’s leader, “President-for-Life” Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticize him.
China (163) also dropped four places even though the country’s media outlets are more numerous and aggressive now, Repression, however, has increased, carried out jointly by the government departments of propaganda and public security. The Chinese government has stressed that it wants to keep its monopoly on all news, mainly through the state-run Xinhua news agency. In the past year, censorship has been stepped up, penalties increased, and many news websites shut down. Physical attacks have also escalated, with one journalist killed by police.
Northern European countries, meanwhile, have been topping the Index since 2002, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals. As in previous years, Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands share first place this year. Perennial joint first-placers Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, have however, slid down the rankings.
Denmark’s dramatic fall (19th) is attributed to the serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published in autumn 2005. The Index noted that for the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.
RSF also expressed alarm over the “steady erosion of press freedom” in the United States, France and Japan. Describing the deterioration, the Index said:
The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.
Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.
France (35th) slipped five places during the past year, to make a loss of 24 places in five years. The increase in searches of media offices and journalists’ homes is very worrying for media organisations and trade unions. Autumn 2005 was an especially bad time for French journalists, several of whom were physically attacked or threatened during a trade union dispute involving privatisation of the Corsican firm SNCM and during violent demonstrations in French city suburbs in November.
Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically attacked by far-right activists (uyoku).
(For an explanation on how the Index was compiled, click here.)
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