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Committee to Protect Journalists Says Press Freedom in Asia Regressed in 2006

  • Claudia Blume

A U.S. media rights group says in Asia, censorship, restrictions on information and threats to journalists remain worrisome. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.

In its annual report, unveiled in Hong Kong on Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists says media freedom in Asia regressed last year. Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator of the media rights group, says the situation in Southeast Asia is particularly disappointing.

"In a region that has seen terrific economic growth media just has not kept up," he said. "The value of the media, the reliability of the media and the freedom of the media has come under constant attack. The greatest setback this year was in Thailand, we think, where the government changed in a military coup and immediately started to put pressure - although it has not pulled back on media freedom yet - the pressure that comes on Thai journalists has increased."

According to CPJ, which is based in New York, North Korea and Burma top the group's list of the 10 most censored countries in the world. The Philippines and Afghanistan had the highest number of journalists killed in connection with their work in the region. With three deaths each in 2006, the two countries ranked globally only behind Iraq, where 32 journalists were killed last year.

In Pakistan, at least eight journalists have lost their lives since 2002.

In China, journalists face less physical danger but confront rigid control and censorship. CPJ says 31 journalists were jailed in China last year, more than anywhere else in the world.

But Ying Chang, journalism professor at the University of Hong Kong, says China's media environment is changing rapidly. The industry is transforming from a state-controlled one to a more market-oriented system and more than 130 million people in the country use the Internet.

"So many contradictory features exist at the same time - there is censorship, there is control - and there is also chaos," said Ying Chang. "There is a mix of signals and signs. What has served to expand the media space in China is the Internet. Around the country people are speaking up in virtual forums, blogs. When an article is banned, the writer would quickly post it online."

Dietz says that across Asia, the Internet has become a threat to governments. He says governments have learned over the years how to deal with broadcast and print but the Internet represents a new area of challenges. He says in China, for example, leaders find it increasingly difficult to keep the flow of information under strict control.