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.