Press Freedom in Asia-Pacific 2024: Authoritarian governments tighten grip

The map of the 2024 edition of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index. Photo: RSF

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The 2024 World Press Freedom Index, released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), sheds light on the growing threat to press freedom worldwide, with political authorities emerging as the primary culprits.

The index highlights a concerning trend where governments, entrusted with safeguarding press freedom, are instead exerting pressure on journalists. Among the five indicators used to compile the ranking, the political indicator has experienced the most significant decline, dropping by a global average of 7.6 points.

RSF's findings underscore a failure of governments to uphold the ideal conditions for journalism, which include ensuring the public's access to reliable, independent, and diverse news and information. The organization notes a disturbing lack of support for media autonomy and a rise in interference from political entities.

As the 2024 World Press Freedom Index reveals a decline in the political indicator, RSF issues a warning about the diminishing role of states and political forces in defending press freedom. This trend is often accompanied by hostile actions against journalists or the exploitation of media for political agendas, including campaigns of harassment and disinformation.

Given the title "2024 World Press Freedom Index – Journalism Under Political Pressure," Anne Bocandé, RSF's editorial director, emphasises the importance of preserving journalism's integrity amid these challenges.

In a concerning development for journalists and media outlets across the Asia-Pacific region, the 2024 World Press Freedom Index reveals a widespread decline in press freedom, with 26 out of 32 countries and territories experiencing a drop in scores. This downward trend underscores the growing stranglehold of authoritarian governments on the flow of news and information.

The World Press Freedom Index, compiled by RSF, serves as a benchmark to assess the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists globally. It measures various factors including political context, legal framework, economic conditions, sociocultural environment, and safety for journalists.

Scores ranging from 0 to 100 are assigned to each country, with higher scores indicating greater press freedom. However, this year's index reflects a troubling reality, with many nations sliding towards more restrictive environments for journalism.

Challenges to press freedom:

Political context: Across the region, there's mounting pressure on media autonomy, with governments exerting control over journalistic practices. Acceptance of diverse journalistic approaches is dwindling, as authorities clamp down on dissenting voices.

Legal framework: Journalists are facing increased censorship and judicial harassment, impeding their ability to work freely. Access to information is being curtailed, and perpetrators of violence against journalists often act with impunity.

Economic context: Economic constraints, both from governmental policies and non-state actors, are hampering media independence. Biased allocation of subsidies and commercial pressures further restrict journalistic freedom.

Sociocultural environment: Journalists face social and cultural constraints, including attacks based on gender, ethnicity, and religion. Cultural norms sometimes dictate what can or cannot be reported, stifling investigative journalism.

Safety: The safety of journalists remains a significant concern, with cases of violence, harassment, and arbitrary detention on the rise. Threats to physical and mental well-being hinder the free flow of information.

Notable Developments:

Afghanistan: With three journalists killed and numerous detentions, Afghanistan plummeted in the rankings, reflecting the deteriorating situation following recent political upheaval.

China and North Korea: These countries continue their oppressive tactics against media, maintaining their low positions in the index due to severe press restrictions.

Pre-election violence: Several countries witnessed a surge in violence against journalists amidst electoral processes, highlighting the risks journalists face in covering sensitive political events.

Legislative restrictions: Countries like India and Hong Kong experienced declines in press freedom due to the implementation of draconian laws and increased government persecution of journalists.

Challenges in democracies: Even in democratic nations like South Korea and Mongolia, threats of prosecution and censorship pose significant challenges to press freedom.

Regional Models: Despite the overall decline, countries like New Zealand, Timor-Leste, Samoa, and Taiwan have maintained relatively higher levels of press freedom, serving as beacons of journalistic integrity in the region.

The worsening press freedom landscape in the Asia-Pacific region underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to safeguard journalistic independence and uphold the public's right to information. As authoritarian tendencies continue to spread, the role of a free and vibrant press in safeguarding democracy becomes ever more crucial.