A report by a U.S.-based press freedom group says the rise of community radio stations in several Asian countries has enhanced freedom of information. But the group says several countries, led by China, are cracking down on Internet sites that criticize their governments. Committee to Protect Journalists released it annual report in Bangkok.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says a flowering of community radio stations has made information more accessible to some Asians than ever before.

It said this has brought real-time information to remote parts of Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Thailand.

But the media advocacy group notes that the governments of Nepal and Thailand have closed several stations that aired criticism. And it said journalists in the Philippines and Afghanistan frequently faced threats and violence because of their reporting.

CPJ Asia representative, Shawn Crispin, singled out China's news media as among the most tightly controlled in the world.

"China is one of the most repressive, yet sophisticated, governments in the world when it comes to restricting press freedom," said Shawn Crispin. "Beijing is far and away the leading jailer of journalists [in the world], with over 32 different journalists behind bars."

Crispin said Chinese journalists are often subject to vague and arbitrary anti-state charges, such as inciting subversion and divulging state secrets. He said censorship is equally severe in China, with hundreds of media outlets closed or punished in the past two years.

He said there are indications that China may be emerging as a role model for other countries in the region. Crispin says China employs some of the most restrictive technologies to monitor the Internet, and these are being adopted by countries such as Burma and Vietnam, which, like China, have jailed journalists for criticizing the government.

Crispin noted that journalists continue to be killed for their reporting in the Philippines, saying 22 have died in the past five years. But he said such murders declined to four last year, and he praised the government of President Gloria Arroyo for taking action.

"Arroyo established a press freedom fund to provide rewards for information on murder cases against journalists and financial assistance to the families of slain journalists," he said. "The fund also acted to institute a witness protection program and alerted the criminal justice system to act. And it did."

He said subsequent investigations have led to several arrests and one major conviction, but added that work remains to be done.

The report criticized the crackdown on the media by Nepal's King Gyanendra one-year ago in the name of fighting the country's Maoist insurgency. And it slammed the government of Cambodia for arresting several journalists during the year, and the Thai government for intimidating the media through defamation lawsuits.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also reported cases of media intimidation in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and noted that a deteriorating ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels had hindered the Sri Lankan media's ability to cover the Indian Ocean tsunami and other important stories.