Myanmar jumps 12 spots on World Press Freedom Index despite worsening censorship

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released their 2017 World Press Freedom Index yesterday. Despite mounting claims of official censorship under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, Myanmar managed to jump 12 spots on the list this year, coming in at 131 out of 180 countries. Last year, Myanmar was ranked 143, and the year before that, 144.

The index is compiled based on answers to a questionnaire that RSF composes and sends out to “journalists, media lawyers, researchers and other media specialists selected by RSF in the 180 countries covered by the Index. Each country is assigned a score based on the answers provided by these experts and on the figures for acts of violence and abuses against journalists during the previous year.”

Although Myanmar is labelled as a ‘difficult situation’ on RSF’s Freedom of the Press map, its situation is less serious than those of neighboring Vietnam (175), China (176), and Laos (170). And despite climbing up the list, Myanmar’s global score actually dropped by 3.66. Norway came in first overall with a global score of 7.6; North Korea took home last place.

The only southeast Asian country to break the top 100 was East Timor (ranked 98). Myanmar is now third on the list among the official Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), being topped only by Indonesia (124), the Philippines (127), and Cambodia (132). The rest of the ASEAN nations were ranked, in descending order: Thailand (142), Malaysia (144), Singapore (151), and Brunei (156).

In its analysis on the current state of press freedom in Myanmar, RSF notes that “media freedom unfortunately does not have a place amongst the new [NLD] government’s priorities…[and] self-censorship continues in connection to government officials and military officers,” not to mention the fact that “authorities continue to exert pressure on the media and even intervene directly to get editorial policies changed.”

Surprisingly, they also claim that no journalists have been killed in Myanmar in 2017. This is despite the fact that in December, RSF called on authorities to ‘step up investigation’ into Eleven reporter Soe Moe Tun’s death, and just earlier this month, for a ‘thorough investigation’ into the death of Iron Rose editor Wai Yan Heinn. In November, they also campaigned for the release of Eleven Media’s CEO and editor-in-chief, who were being held on defamation charges.

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