AsiaWATCH — The Philippines improved a few notches while Pakistan cemented its reputation as the deadliest country on Earth for journalists and China and Vietnam both slipped amid increased arrests and tighter controls imposed on a media faced with a public increasingly angered by government and corruption. Max Kolbe reports.
The 10th annual report by Reporters San Frontier on the perilous state of the media around the world is a dismal read, particularly among Western countries which normally provide the global role model on press freedom.
The United States fell to 47th place from 30th mainly because of its handling of the Occupy Movement and New Zealand’s fall to 13th meant there was no country from the Asia/Pacific region left in the Top 10, which was dominated by Scandinavian countries.
“In Australia (30th), the media were subjected to investigations and criticism by the authorities, and were denied access to information, while in Japan (22nd) coverage of the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear accident gave rise to excessive restrictions and exposed the limits of the pluralism of the country’s press.”
Hong Kong remained a regional benchmark at 54th but was down after witnessing a sharp deterioration in press freedom in 2011. “Arrests, assaults and harassment worsened working conditions for journalists to an extent not seen previously, a sign of a worrying change in government policy.”
Countries at the centre of the Arab Spring suffered dramatic falls while in Southeast Asia a few countries improved their standing. Cambodia rose to 117, while Brunei reached 122 and Malaysia came in at 125.
Singapore and Thailand improved to 135th and 137 respectively, The Philippines came in at 139th and Laos sat at 165. Oppression in West Papua resulted Indonesia falling to 146th spot.
With 10 deaths Pakistan may have been the deadliest for the second year in a row but at 151 it was not among the worst performers in the region. Burma improved amid political reforms and at 169 fared better than Vietnam at 172, China in 174th spot and North Korea at 178, just above Eritrea at the bottom of the index.
This year hasn’t exactly got off to the best of starts either. Since the report was released Pakistani journalist Mukarram Khan Atif, from Voice of America, has been shot dead by the Taliban who have declared they will kill reporters deemed working for any anti-Talib group.
In Sri Lanka, which fell to 163rd, journalists are staging protests demanding the government launch an investigation into the killing and disappearance of reporters, which have grown in number. In Somalia Osman Abdi of Shabelle Media became the first journalist to be shot dead in that country for 2012.
In Ethiopia three journalists have received lengthy prison terms under that country’s draconian anti-terrorism laws. And in China authorities have blocked foreign journalists from entering areas where Tibetan exiles claim 136 Tibetans have been arrested or have disappeared while in police custody in Sichuan, bordering Tibet.
However, the latest out of Burma is that the government of President Thein Sein has begun easing restrictions on foreign journalists entering the country as locals gear up for the April 1 by-elections which should see opposition leader and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi elected to Parliament.
Meanwhile, on a slightly stranger note, Malaysia’s First Lady Rosmah Mansor has won herself a colorful reputation. Her concerns for the environment has steered her towards buying-up tracts of rainforests, she also has a hard head for cutting a business deal and her concern for a murdered Mongolian model deeply touched many Malays.
Two Malaysian officers are awaiting execution for the murder of Altantuya Shaarribuu, who once worked for Rosmah’s husband Prime Minister Najib Razak as a translator. Forensic tests showed that she was first shot in the head, then her body blown to pieces with C4 explosives.
Never far from the limelight, the First Lady of Malaysian Politics, has become famously upset with one Australian journalist who detailed her shopping habits which placed her squarely in the same ranks of another accomplished first lady, Imelda Marcos of The Philippines.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew Hornery dubbed Rosmah the “first lady of shopping” after she apparently racked up bills totalling A$100,000 in a Sydney shop. He quoted local frock designer Carl Kapp as having spent the tidy sum during a private holiday.
“In recent months, Mansor… has been forced to deny reports she had bought a US$24 million diamond and a US$200,000 (RM621,000)-plus crocodile skin, bejewelled Hermes handbag,” Hornery added.
Rosmah says it’s not true and journalists working in Malaysia’s traditional media and government friendly bloggers who share Rosmah’s famous thirst for fair play also retaliated, accusing Hornery of working for the opposition party in Malaysia and even denounced him as gay.
Writing in mynewshub, blogger Melinda Mazhar went so far as to say: “Ii you surf the net looking for facts on Andrew, you would find that he has written many articles on gay rights and condemning those who ‘discriminate’ gays. So, no wonder Andrew feels so ‘close’ to our opposition which happen to be led by a gay guy too. And no wonder Datin Seri Rosmah had officially denied the shopping spree thing in no time at all as it’s nothing but another wild, unworthy, stupid gossip by Andrew Hornery.”
That says it all, really.