East Asia

The region of East Asia includes the countries of China, Japan, Macau, North Korea, Palau, South Korea and Taiwan.

The area encompasses a full spectrum of press freedoms, from the relatively open environment of Japan to the tightly controlled China and North Korea.

China routinely denies access to journalists who wish to report on certain areas, such as Tibet and Xinjiang. Often the only information made available about unrest in these areas comes from the official state news agency, and even that can be hard to find. China also has imprisoned numerous journalists – 27 at the end of 2011, with 17 of them ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The country blocks Internet access to Web sites including Twitter and Facebook, and blog posts that run counter to the official party line are often deleted.

There have been some press triumphs in China, however, particularly in the larger eastern cities. These have focused on issues such as air quality, detention of migrants, child labor and chemically altered food. Press and internet reports have forced the government to take action.

The Overseas Press Club has protested numerous actions by the Chinese government, including the sentencing of writer Li Tie to 10 years in prison for web posts that supported human rights and democratic reforms.

The situation in North Korea is even more extreme. One of the world’s most censored nations, North Korea rarely allows reporting beyond official government pronouncements. Organizations such as the Asia Press Network occasionally manage to engineer independent reporting from within the country’s boundaries. The Associated Press in January 2012 became the first western news agency to open a full news bureau in North Korea, but the news it reports is strictly for outside consumption.

In 2009, North Korea made international news when it imprisoned American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling after arresting them near the Chinese border. The Overseas Press Club called their “show trial” and sentence of 12 years in a labor camp “a grave offense to journalists around the world.” After four months and a visit to Pyongyang from former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the two were released.

Even in Japan, questions arose about government restrictions on freelance journalists covering dangers posed by nuclear facilities damaged in the country’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

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