WASHINGTON — Reflecting changes in Burma’s media climate after nearly two years of political reforms under the current quasi-civilian government, a leading international media watchdog has given the country its best ranking in over a decade.
According to the World Press Freedom Index, released by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday, Burma now ranks 151st in the group’s ranking of 179 countries, rising 18 places from its previous position.
“Burma continued the ascent begun in last year’s index. Previously, it had been in the bottom 15 every year since 2002 but now, thanks to the Burmese spring’s unprecedented reforms, it has reached its best-ever position,” said the annual report released by Reporters Without Borders.
In its report, Reporters Without Border said Burma went through dramatic changes in 2012 and had jumped ahead of its usual bedfellows in the media repression stakes.
“There are no longer any journalists or cyber dissidents in the jails of the old military dictatorship. Legislative reform has only just begun but the steps already taken by the government in favor of the media, such as an end to prior censorship and the permitted return of media organizations from exile, are significant steps towards genuine freedom of information,” the report said.
As last year, the list is topped by three European countries—Finland, the Netherlands and Norway. Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea continue to be at the bottom of the list as has been the case over the last three years. While China is ranked at 173rd, Vietnam’s ranking remains unchanged at 172. Cambodia has dropped by 26 places to the 143rd spot.
“The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said.
“In dictatorships, news providers and their families are exposed to ruthless reprisals, while in democracies news providers have to cope with the media’s economic crises and conflicts of interest. While their situation is not always comparable, we should pay tribute to all those who resist pressure whether it is aggressively focused or diffuse,” he said.
Conditions for the media are critical in Cambodia, which fell to its lowest ever position, the report said. Since 2011, news organizations, in particular independent local and foreign radio stations, have been subjected to a policy of censorship orchestrated by an increasingly ruthless Information Ministry.
“On 1 October 2012, Mam Sonando, the owner of an independent radio station, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for insurrection and inciting others to take up arms against the state. The decline in freedom of information also involved deadly attacks and death threats aimed at journalists who exposed government corruption and illegal activities harmful to the environment,” the report said.
Malaysia also presented a sorry record, falling 23 places to 145th in the ranking—a position below the one it had in 2002, the report said.
“Despite an all-out battle by rights activists and online media outlets, a campaign of repression by the government, illustrated by the crackdown on the ‘Bersih 3.0’ protest in April, and repeated censorship efforts, continue to undermine basic freedoms, in particular the right to information,” it said of the situation in Malaysia.