During 2006, the world saw new signs of hope for reporters and press in Asia. We can say, Asians can now view clearer picture of national and international news than before. The autocratic regimes, including that of King Gyanendra in Nepal were withheld by the democrats.
Due to the development of privatization of press in Asia, TV channels are bringing news free from state control to the local public. In Pakistan millions of home can now see some free press news through their TV sets. Phoenix TV in China is creating a revolution for news broadcasters in the nation. In India we can see many TV channels that can be analyzed as broadcasting their news, free from state control. In Afghanistan and Nepal we can see hopes for the coming generation. Kantipur, Image and Himal Media are contributing lot for press freedom in Nepal. The peaceful democratic revolution that happened in Nepal(2006) was a remarkable success of the press.
In Cambodia the government has decided to decriminalize defamation. This would mean that the government cannot hinder the press in the name of defamation. This will prove a turning point in the attitude of the government towards the press. Whereas, Indonesian government has lifted offensive insult against the head of state. Although these little changes in the law does not mean a great deal in press freedom but are significant changes.
Even though these signs are significant and bright, the darker side of press freedom in Asia is a longer story. North Korea, China, Japan and other Middle Eastern countries are worst violators of press freedom. In North Korea, the leader, Kim Jong-il, totally controls the media. China, as called by the Reporters sans borders is the “Biggest prison on Earth” for journalists. No press can talk about the Japanese mafia, who are almost over the state in Japan.
South Korea and India who are example of democracy world over is also not a good example for free press. Anyone writing in favor of North Korea is punishable in South Korea, In India, big politicians and entrepreneurs control the press indirectly. Similar business tycoons control the press in Singapore and Malaysia, where selected companies get permission to start a press.
In Turkmenistan, journalist Ogulsapar Muradova was killed brutally by the state. The head of state in Turkmenistan, Separmurad Nyazov, is not a well wisher of the press.
With the cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, the Asian press suffered a lot. In Yemen, several journalists were arrested and many media companies were closed when they reprinted the cartoons. For the same reason media people were harassed in Algeria, Jordan, Indonesia and India. Including Denmark, where press was enjoying a lot of press freedom, happened to be threatened by the state for the publication of the cartoons.
Journalists in Bangladesh frequently suffer assaults and threats when they try to expose the nepotism and corruption among the politicians. In china the propaganda department constantly removes the editors of media houses in the country, to shadow their desire for independence.
Due to war, In Nepal and Srilanka many journalists were killed either by the state or by the rebels. In Srilanka, media representatives are, along with thousands of civilians, the innocent victims of a war which is stoked up by the government and the Tamil Tigers. These paramilitary forces regularly threaten and kill journalists and attack them and their media houses.
In Vietnam, the information ministry suspended five publications within a few days when they published articles about a prominent figure in the regime.
In Myanmar, there is strict army rule to write against the state and if anyone found to be writing about democracies or about the Novel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, penalties will be brutal or life threatening. It has a history of banning more than one third of the total articles and illustrations of privately owned publications by the army officers of the censorship bureau. The state of Myanmar controls the broadcast of satellite media to its citizen, thus the people have a very limited access to the press.
In Thailand, a press in bangkok narrowly escaped prison in 2006 after being accused of insulting the king. In Bhutan, the press is always symbolizing about king in the most respectful terms. In Brunei, the sultan and his family are almost always in the front page, criticism is almost extinct here.
In 2006, figures suggest that 328 journalists were arrested, 517 physically assaulted or threatened and at least 478 media were censored, with 16 journalists being killed.
Despite these cases, China has freed Jiang Weiping and Gao Qinrong who were given heavy prison sentences for writing articles about corruption and no journalist arrested in 2006 in China was held in custody. Nepal has seen a drastic change in terms of press freedom when it released all the media personnel from the prisons of the country.
With a bunch of good and bad news for press in year 2006, we can still hope 2007 will not be the same. Writings are the core display of thoughts of the people and they must have full right to speak about what they see, keeping in mind other’s freedom to hide.