Hard Times for Press Freedom in Asia
Image Credit: flickr/Espen Faugstad

Hard Times for Press Freedom in Asia


Nearly half of the twenty countries with the least amount of press freedom in the world are located in the Asia-Pacific, according to Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index.

Of the twenty countries making the bottom of the list, nine are located in the Asia-Pacific. In ascending order these countries are: North Korea, Iran, China, Vietnam, Laos, Uzbekistan, Laos, Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan.

Of these nine “worst of the worst,” only Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan saw significant changes from their positions during the last year, with the former dropping six spots and the latter declining by seven spots from the 2012 World Press Freedom Index.

Other parts of Asia saw more dramatic swings over the course of 2012. Most of these were in the wrong direction.

Singapore, for instance, dropped 14 spots from 135 to 149. Other countries in Southeast Asia fared worse, with Malaysia dropping 23 spots to 145th and Cambodia plummeting 26 spots to 143th of 179 countries surveyed.

In between the two with the 144th most free press freedoms in the world was Bangladesh, which had dropped 15 spots on the year. It was not alone among South Asian nations that saw a decline in press freedom last year. In fact, Pakistan dropped 7 spots, India declined by 9 places, and Nepal by 12. Maldives, which suffered from political stability all year, declined 30 spots but still ranked at 103, much higher than Pakistan’s 159, India’s 140, and Nepal’s 118 rankings.

Reporters Without Borders noted that India’s ranking this year was its “lowest since 2002 because of increasing impunity for violence against journalists and because Internet censorship continues to grow.”

Even the democratic states in Northeast Asia saw at least marginal setbacks, with South Korea falling six spots to finish 50th, and Taiwan dropping two spots to finish 47th.

Most shocking however was Japan, which fell a whopping 31 places from 22nd place to 53th in terms of press freedoms over the course of 2012. Reporters Without Borders justified this steep drop by pointing to growing “censorship of nuclear industry coverage and its failure to reform the ‘kisha club’ system.”

There were some bright spots in Asia, however. Notably, Myanmar climbed another 18 spots last year, finishing at 151. This is only four spots behind the Philippines who finished the year at 147 out of 179 countries after dropping six places. Reporters Without Borders noted in its analysis that Myanmar had previously “been in the bottom 15 every year since 2002 but now, thanks to the Burmese spring’s unprecedented reforms, it has reached its best-ever position.”

Afghanistan saw even more dramatic improvements, rising 22 places to finish 128th. Reporters Without Borders cited “the fact that no journalists are in prison” as the reason for Kabul’s rise in its rankings. At the same time, it said that Afghanistan continued to face many challenges and suggested it was not optimistic about Afghanistan’s media freedom after foreign troops leave the country at the end of next year.

With the 9th ranking New Zealand was the only country outside of Europe to be ranked among the top ten countries with the most press freedoms. The next highest ranked Asia-Pacific country was Australia at 26.

Reporters Without Borders is a French-based non-governmental organization that advocates for freedom of information and freedom of expression as the “the foundation of any democracy.”

Zachary Keck is assistant editor of The Diplomat. He is on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Kim's Uncle
February 15, 2013 at 12:48

It's funny when people talk about unexploded bombs in Laos people don't mention the unexploded ordnances left behind from the NVA heavy artillery such 130 mm and 133 mm artillery.  They are all over the place and NVA gunners don't make a distinction between civilian or military target.  Don't get started on the mines left behind by NVA either.  Btw, if people care about Laos how come no one is concern about Hmong people living in Laos being hunted down like animals by Pathet Lao and VPA forces in 2010?  The war is over and these two commie goons are still waging war against the Hmong?   

February 15, 2013 at 06:12

What a Hypocrisy!

Where are Saudi Arabia and other arabian ally of USA in this list?

They aren't in Asia or the are example of Freedom and Justice?

henry ford
February 9, 2013 at 02:05

What are the top 5's? Does France take up all 5's since that's where Reporters Without Borders from !

February 8, 2013 at 20:38

Interesting point is that ASEAN countries all dropped in ranking except Burma,where a General leads the reform,and seem to be winning prsises all over.The rest of ASEAN are simply hopeless,the region claiming to want to lead the world's morality.

February 8, 2013 at 20:35

HaHaha,very funny,have a nice weekend.

February 6, 2013 at 17:43

Yep, ya right. The western media is definitely filled with war veterans all well known for their past butchering skills. Heck, even the new Secretary Of State is a viet war veteran. Then there are the serial killers now residing in jails, they too are war veterans, again well knwon for their past butchering skills. If I had their butchering skills, I would be a politician today. Many will agree with me. Ask Hillary. The butcher of north africa is said to be eyeing the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. Heh, heh. It takes butchering skills honed in foreign conflicts or wars abroad to make a successful media person or politician. Heh, heh.

February 6, 2013 at 11:33

Yes, the Western media is filled with 70-year-old former air force pilots. (If I had Chinese debating skills, I'd take up hacking, too.)

February 5, 2013 at 08:09

Probably because of the very massive pile of unexploded munitions dropped during the happy bombing days of the Vietnam War and left behind and still uncleared today. So, the easy way out is to just put double blame on Vientiane. After all, some of those people and pilots responsible for the bombing are now working in the western media industry. Very clever on the part of those people.

February 3, 2013 at 03:19

Why is Laos on the list twice?

Daniel Weber
February 2, 2013 at 23:21

In need of correction: As listed in the article, two of the 9 countries are Laos.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief