Freedom House reports declining media freedom

global-press-freedom-2009

Freedom House has just released its annual report on media freedom. The report showed press freedom declining for the seventh straight year. Taiwan’s media freedom declined slightly. It previously had the freest media in Asia, but now ranks second behind Japan.

The survey gives countries a score between zero and 100. The lower the score the more free that country’s media is. In 2008 Taiwan ranked 32nd in the world with a score of 20. In 2009 Taiwan slipped back to 43rd with a score of 23. Freedom House noted, “Media in Taiwan faced assault and growing government pressure.” Taiwan’s media is still classified as “Free”. Freedom House notes that declines in Taiwan, Italy and Israel illustrate that established democracies with traditionally open media are not immune to restricting media freedom.

Freedom House said declines and stagnation in East Asia were of particular concern. Hong Kong slipped to “Partly Free” as Beijing exerted growing influence over its media. “The declines in East Asia are particularly disappointing, given the increased attention on the region because of the Beijing Olympics,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House senior researcher and managing editor of the study. “China should have had a better record in 2008 and upheld its promise to ensure press freedom during the Olympics, but instead it chose to remain the world’s largest repressor of media freedom.”

As noted in the report on independent media which I wrote about earlier this week, Taiwan developed a very free media environment after the lifting of martial law. However, it is highly partisan and dominated by outlets which are pan-blue. Former Central News Agency (CNA) Chairman Su Tzen-ping describes Taiwan’s media as “free but discredited”.

Last year saw a number of incidents of government interference in the media. In October the International Federation of Journalists issued a statement expressing concern about government interference in state-owned media, particularly CNA and Radio Taiwan International (RTI). The budget of Public Television Service (PTS) was frozen by the legislature for almost a year as they sought to subject individual items on the budget to scrutiny. PTS saw this as an attempt to interfere with its independence. The budget was finally unfrozen last month.

Reporters without Borders reported that ten journalists were injured during protests associated with Chen Yunlin’s visit to Taiwan. An independent documentary maker was detained by police for filming outside Chen’s hotel. Others complained about preferential access given to certain media outlets covering Chen’s visit.

Another major threat to media freedom in Taiwan is investment from groups politically connected to the PRC. Hong Kong based Next Media already has a strong position in the market via the Apple Daily and is planning to launch its own TV station. Last year the China Times Group was acquired by Want Want Holdings, a Taiwanese company with large investments in China. These concerns were articulated by Leon Chuang in a recent Taipei Times op-ed where he wrote:

China has spent tens of billions of dollars to get a foothold in the global media. The investment in Taiwan is just a drop in the bucket. Flushed with cash, China can easily feast on the financially troubled Taiwanese media like a wolf among a flock of sheep while the Taiwanese government stands idly by.

A free and independent media is a vital pillar of democracy. Taiwan faces threats to media freedom on several fronts. It is essential that media freedom is safeguarded to avoid a democratic rollback.

9 thoughts on “Freedom House reports declining media freedom

  1. Hi David,

    somehow I found this blog and enjoyed several of your posts. Thanks for that.

    It is not surprising that Taiwan is downgraded by FH, especially with an administration taking Singapore as a successful model (seriously?). And it is again not surprising that on Yahoo!News no/few people recommend this news reported by Liberty Times.

    I don’t know whether you & your friends notice that somehow the popularity of the news on Yahoo! represents quite well the majority of 20-40 years-olds. Another good indicator is the poll on Yahoo!. I found these indicators really explain quite well the results of recent elections.

    But when one does a little bit more study and thinking. It is not difficult to find that there are bunch of contradictions in between, implying that the majority of the young taiwanese cannot compromise with themselves (it’s all the same people reading the news and polled).

    By the way, I do not know if it is because of the coming release of the movie “Formosa Betrayed”, Ma administration just started to re-investigate Prof. Chen’s case. News says the earliest report may come at June (so quick!!).

    It is so interesting to see all of these.

  2. CW, thanks for your comment. It is worth noting that Singapore ranks 151 with a score of 63. Many people are unaware that Singapore is NOT a democracy. I included some of the concerns about Hong Kong in this article because it gives a glimpse of Taiwan’s possible political future. Singapore is another possible future model. Neither are desirable even if Taiwan’s current democratic system has flaws.

    I don’t check Yahoo News, but will have a look at it to get an idea about what people are reading. I haven’t heard the news about the Chen Wen-cheng case. It will be interesting to see what kind of reactions the release of “Formosa Betrayed” provokes.

  3. I am very amazed at this score taiwan managed to get

    I do think that media work in conjunction with politicians all the time. They are inseparable

  4. My classmates (males) told me that they voted for Ma not just because our teachers forces us,too, but mainly because most of them aren’t sure if they can live and handle Western values like democracy and human rights.
    So voting for the KMT means to identify yourself as a nationalist, capitalist Chinese and distance yourself from Taiwanese identity which means to be liberal and open minded or simply Tai Ke.
    It’s of course a different story outside of Taipei. I’m seriously thinking about leaving Taipei. The right to say my personal opinion gets more and more limited in my campus.
    My classmates from the economic department talk a lot about Singapore. Same as Jackie Chan they agree that Chinese people need a strong leader and control. Adolf Hitler is very glorified in Chinese societies.

  5. Thanks for your analysis Manuel. It would be interesting to conduct a survey on attitudes to democracy to understand this better.

  6. Manuel, I’m curious how your teachers can force you and your classmates to vote for Ma. Unless you tell the teacher who you voted for, how would they ever know?

  7. Very simple…they do it the same way like the NAzis did under Hitler. They spread out fear … they say things like “If you vote for the DPP tomorrow the communist will Taiwan as part of them”…or like “Chen will force your sisters and mothers to prostitution and send for independence war against China, while he will live happily with his US greem card in the US.”…mostly take the teacher the United Daily News into class and read the propaganda in front of us.

  8. Well Manuel, if your classmates believe stuff like that, it’s amazing they ever managed to graduate high school, much less get into university.

  9. I’ll just add something to give this more context. It is important to understand that up until 1990 there was no freedom of association on Taiwan university campuses. All student activities were closely monitored and controlled by the apparatus of the KMT Party State. Remnants of this authoritarian mentality still live on today. I have heard numerous stories about students being actively discouraged from engaging in political activities. Furthermore I have heard of teachers that constantly propagandise and present extraordinarily distorted views of Taiwanese history and politics to their students. It is not fair to say that students are stupid if they make voting decisions based on what their teachers said unless you try to understand the broader situation of what is going on on the campuses.

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