China has managed to maintain its ranking at 176 in the annual World Press Freedom Index, only besting the states of Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Released each year by the international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the index ranks 180 countries/territories according to the freedom allowed to journalists. The theme for this year was the global clampdown on media by paranoid leaders, as well as reporting that is increasingly being shaped by personal interests. RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire explains:
It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.
The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately-owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests. Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.
Of course, Chinese leaders have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to paranoia about reporting, but earlier this year Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed to journalists where their loyalty lies; making high-profile visits to state media headquarters in Beijing, declaring that all media must be “surnamed Party” so they can give “correct guidance of public opinion” by “singing the main theme, transmitting positive energy.”
In that spirit, reporting about sensitive issues like top leader’s connections with off-shore wealth exposed in the Panama Papers has been censored, editors have been fired for headlines with “hidden messages” and journalists have been disappeared.
In the RSF’s summary of the conditions for journalism in China, they bring up the treatment of veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu:
As well as building a Great Firewall to monitor and control blogs and social networks, the Communist Party exercises total control over China’s many media outlets. Independent journalists such as Gao Yu are harassed and jailed. The last time Gao was arrested, she was accused of leaking a classified document listing “ten perils to combat” that included media independence. “Making unauthorized criticisms” is one of the many bans to which journalists are subjected. It reinforces an already formidable arsenal that includes the state secrets law and the criminal code. President Xi Jiping is on RSF’s list of predators of press freedom.
Meanwhile, Taiwan stayed steady at 51st place and despite all that has gone in Hong Kong over the past year, it actually rose one spot to 69th on the list. Though this list was compiled prior to the editor of Ming Pao being suddenly fired after the paper ran a story on Wednesday about HK politicians named in the Panama Papers leak.
Here’s a list of the top 10 from RSF’s latest report:
5. New Zealand
6. Costa Rica
And the bottom 10 on the list:
179. North Korea