The Asia-Pacific region as a whole exhibited a relatively high level of press freedom, with 15 countries and territories (37.5 percent) rated Free, 13 (32.5 percent) rated Partly Free, and 12 (30 percent) rated Not Free. Yet the regionwide figures are deceptive, as they disguise considerable subregional diversity. For example, the Pacific islands, Australasia, and parts of East Asia have some of the best-ranked media environments in the world, while conditions in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and other parts of East Asia are significantly worse. The balanced country breakdown also obscures the fact that only 6 percent of the region’s population has access to Free media, while equal shares of 47 percent live in Partly Free and Not Free media environments. However, the movement of Bangladesh to the Partly Free category in 2009 led to a four-point jump in the percentage of people living in Partly Free media environments. The improvement in the overall level of press freedom in the Asia-Pacific region, in terms of the average regional score, was led by gains in the political category.
Asia includes the two worst-rated countries in the world, Burma and North Korea, as well as China, Laos, and Vietnam, all of which feature extensive state or party control of the press. Conditions in the world’s largest poor performer, China, remained highly repressive in 2009.
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Reporters Without Borders
Asia’s four Communist regimes, North Korea (177th place), China (171st), Vietnam (165thj) Laos (168th), are among the fifteen lowest-ranked countries of the 2010 World Press Freedom Index. Ranked just one place behind Eritrea, hellish totalitarian North Korea has shown no improvement. To the contrary: in a succession framework set up by Kim Jong-il in favour of his son, crackdowns have become even harsher. China, despite its dynamic media and Internet, remains in a low position because of non-stop censorship and repression, notably in Tibet and Xinjiang. In Laos, it is not so much repression which plagues this country of Southeast Asia as its single party’s political control over the whole media. On the other hand, Vietnam’s Communist Party – soon to hold its own Congress – and its open season against freedom of speech is responsible for its worse than mediocre ranking.
Asia-Pacific country rankings can be impressive. New Zealand is one of the ten top winners and Japan (11th), Australia (18th) and Hong Kong (34th) occupy favourable positions. Two other Asian democracies, 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, arrests and violence have ceased.
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