Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its 2010 Press Freedom Index today. The index ranked Taiwan 48th in the world. This was an improvement of 11 places on its position last year. It is still lower than Taiwan’s 36th place in 2008.
RSF called the performance of Asia’s democratic countries “impressive.” Japan, ranked 11th, held the highest position of any Asian country. RSF noted, “Taiwan and South Korea, rose 11 and 27 places respectively, after noteworthy falls in the 2009 Index. Although some problems persist, such as the issue of the state-owned media’s editorial independence.”
Taiwan’s poor position in the 2009 ranking can in part be attributed to incidents of violence against journalists surrounding the visit of Chinese official Chen Yunlin in November 2008. According to RSF ten journalists were injured while covering the protests. As far as I know there have been no incidents of violence involving journalists in Taiwan in the past year.
An ongoing issue in Taiwan that has not been resolved is the KMT government’s attempts to exert greater control over Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS). RSF and Freedom House have both issued statements recently expressing concern about the KMT ousting PTS President Sylvia Feng to gain control of the board. RSF wrote, “Reporters Without Borders believes that a democratic government should take pride in defending the state-owned media’s independence. Protecting their independence is essential in order to guarantee a really democratic political system, one that allows all political parties and all sectors of society to make their voices heard.”
Although Taiwan’s media is free it suffers from being highly polarised due to the very partisan reporting of many media organisations. PTS is one of the few media outlets that provides balanced coverage. It also reports on many issues that are ignored by commercial media organisations. PTS plays a vital role in Taiwan’s media landscape. If it cannot maintain its independence then Taiwan’s media freedom will suffer a major blow.