“As a rule, the authorities have been respectful of press freedoms, exemplified by their decriminalisation of press offences in the Maldives,” the report stated.
The ranking places the Maldives at the top of the South Asian countries for press freedom, and among the most free in Asia behind Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
The Maldives was ranked 129 in 2007, jumping to 104 in 2008 and 51 in 2009 following the election of President Mohamed Nasheed.
France, the home of RWB (Reporters Sans Frontières) ranked 44, while regionally, India (122), Bangladesh (126) and Sri Lanka (158) were ranked far below the Maldives.
“Less violence was noted [in Sri Lanka], yet the media’s ability to challenge the authorities has tended to weaken with the exile of dozens of journalists,” the RWB report stated.
Scandinavian countries including Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden were ranked first, while Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea were ranked last.
The RWB report was damning of Asia-Pacific’s overall performance, particularly across communist and military regimes, while democratic countries such as Japan (11) and Australia (18) fared far better. However “Malaysia (141), Singapore (136) and East Timor (93) are down this year.”
“In Afghanistan (147th) and in Pakistan (151st), Islamist groups bear much of the responsibility
for their country’s pitifully low ranking. Suicide bombings and abductions make working as a journalist an increasingly dangerous occupation in this area of South Asia,” the report noted.
“In short, repression has not diminished in ASEAN countries, despite the recent adoption of a human rights charter.”
The RWB report focuses on state repression of the media and threat to the safety of journalists, and not the condition of a country’s media industry itself.
Visiting journalism trainer Tiare Rath, Iraq Editorial Manager for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) recently identified that political partisanship among senior editorial leadership in the Maldives was obstructing the development of a free and independent media – often despite the good intentions of rank-and-file journalists.
“I have been really impressed with news judgement here, and the understanding of the basic principles of journalism,” Rath said of her experience training young reporters in the Maldives.
“But on the other hand, one of the major issues all my students talked about is resistance among newsroom leadership – editors and publishers. Even if the journalists support and understand the principles being taught, they consistently tell me they cannot apply them,” she said.
“This is a very, very serious problem that needs to be addressed.”