In the year since the law on the protection of specially designated secrets took effect in Japan (72nd, down 11) in December 2014, many media outlets, including state-owned ones, succumbed to self-censorship, especially vis-à-vis the prime minister, and surrendered their independence.
In South Korea (70th, down 10), relations between the media and government have become much more fraught under President Park Geun-hye. In Hong Kong (69th), where Chinese businessmen are increasingly interested in acquiring media outlets, media independence continued to be the main challenge for freedom of information.
In China (176th), the Communist Party took repression to new heights. Journalists were spared nothing, not even abductions, televised forced confessions and threats to relatives. In a recent tour of the country’s leading news organizations, President Xi Jinping said the media “must love the Party, protect the Party, and closely align themselves with the Party leadership in thought, politics and action.” He could not have made his totalitarian view of the media’s role any clearer.
After improving last year, Burma (143rd) and Philippines (138th) saw their scores decline in the 2016 Index, revealing the limits of the reforms and measures taken to improve media freedom and safety. Singapore (154th) suffered the region’s second biggest decline, after the Sultanate of Brunei (155th, down 34), where the gradual introduction of the Sharia and threats of blasphemy charges fuelled self-censorship. The governments of India (133rd) and Bangladesh (144th) took little action in response to violence against media personnel and were sometimes directly involved in violations of their freedom.
Sri Lanka (141st, up 24 places) is the Asian country that rose most in the 2016 Index. Its journalists no longer had to fear telephone threats or enforced disappearances encouraged by the Rajapaksa family, especially the former president’s brother, former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Its news media also fortunately recovered their former readiness to speak out even if they obviously still lag far behind the dynamism and combativeness of the media in Samoa (29th, up 11), where the Media Council law adopted in early 2015 decriminalized defamation, strengthened pluralism and gave the media more leeway to criticize.
In Tonga (37th, up 7), the independent media have progressively assumed their watchdog role since the first democratic elections in 2010. In Fiji (80th, up 13), despite the threats that the constitution and legislation pose to journalists, the media have asserted their independence, improved the public debate and succumbed less and less to self-censorship. A fine Pacific island postcard.