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Press Freedom in Asia

The 2015 World Press Freedom Index has been released, and it lays bare that Asia has a lot more work to do. But she also happens to be trending right along with some good company—sliding down a slippery slope with some of the world’s “beacons of freedom.”

The French non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders releases the index each year. According to its website, it ranks 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional, and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.

press freedom

The biggest bright spot in Asia was Mongolia, which jumped a whopping 34 places this year, to #54. This was mainly due to some continued improvements in legislation. If Mongolia continues this surge it could put the United States, France, and the United Kingdom to shame by as early as next year and be a model of press freedom for all of Asia.

Taiwan rated the highest in Asia (#51), scoring just below the United States (#49). Both countries slipped a couple spots rather than gaining this year.

Some of the biggest disappointments were South Korea (#60), Japan (#61), and Hong Kong (which slipped nine spots from last year, to #70). Hong Kong’s considerable decline was most likely the result of its less-than-ideal reporting surrounding the autumn 2014 “umbrella revolution.”

Unsurprisingly, China shows up near the bottom of the list (#176), slipping just one spot from last year. Vietnam seems to be playing follow the leader dropping one also (#175). At this pace, we may see China become not only the largest economy, biggest polluter, and richest country in the world, but also the worst country in the world for press freedom.

For many developed countries, press freedom issues are more easily identifiable. The control of news regarding military conflicts and the lack of coverage of demonstrations seem to be reoccurring themes. But for emerging and frontier countries it seems the problems are more complex where religious, governmental, and non-State tyranny seem to make reporting and journalism risqué circles to be dancing around in many of these places.

A lot more can and needs to be done, obviously, especially in first-world countries such as the United States, where freedoms are supposedly not granted but are basic human rights. Many countries in Asia think very highly of the United States, especially where commerce and trade are concerned. Moreover, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is enacted then Asia and the Americas will, for better or worse, be joined at the hip, slowly progressing towards greater unity and (ideally) more prosperity.

The burning question though… will this future unity and prosperity be based on a Chinese-style command and control, or more like an American right of freedom and liberty for all?

If this index is any sort of indicator, then there is definitely a cause for concern. Because as it stands now, things are clearly flashing yellow.