Freedom of Press

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Asia includes the two worst-rated countries in the world, Burma and North Korea, as well as China, Laos, and Vietnam, all of which feature extensive state or party control of the press. Conditions in the world’s largest poor performer, China, remained highly repressive in 2009. Authorities increased censorship and Communist Party propaganda in traditional and online media in the periods surrounding high-profile events, such as politically sensitive anniversaries and a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama. Dozens of detailed party directives curbed coverage related to public health, environmental accidents, deaths in police custody, and foreign policy. Journalists investigating corruption or environmental pollution faced a growing threat from physical attacks and politicized charges of bribery, while several activists were sentenced to long prison terms for their online writings. Nevertheless, journalists, bloggers, grassroots activists, and religious believers scored several victories as they continued to push the limits of permissible expression, including the exposure of corruption, the circulation of underground political publications, and the government’s retraction of orders to install Green Dam monitoring and censorship software on all personal computers.

South Asia featured two of the year’s six status changes, and both were positive despite the overall global downward trend.Following numerical improvements in 2008, Bangladesh moved from Not Free to Partly Free in 2009 as its score jumped to 56 from 63. The generally freer media environment, which followed the lifting of emergency regulations just prior to December 2008 elections that returned a civilian government to power, included some adherence to constitutional protections for press freedom, fewer instances of censorship, and a lower incidence of attacks and harassment. The country also benefited from a recent trend of diversification and growth in private television stations. Meanwhile, Bhutan’s...
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