Hong Kong's standing as a bastion of the free press in the Asia-Pacific region has risen - but there have been cries of anguish in Taiwan after an international watchdog steeply downgraded its standing, citing interference by the new ruling party. French-based Reporters Without Borders rated Hong Kong 48th of 175 countries and territories in its annual Press Freedom Index, a three-slot improvement over last year, which placed it fourth in the region. The organisation said Hong Kong would have done better without nagging doubts about self-censorship. Only New Zealand (tied for 13), Australia (16) and Japan (17) ranked higher than Hong Kong in the region, and the city moved ahead of Taiwan, whose rating plunged 23 places to 59. Vincent Brossel, who oversees the group's Asia desk, said violence against journalists was 'almost zero' in Hong Kong, direct censorship did not exist and there was no censorship of the internet. He said some respondents had mentioned a perception of self- censorship because some media owners had business interests on the mainland. 'If there is a perception ... it's something that should be answered by the Hong Kong journalist community and the media owners,' he said. Explaining its steep downgrading of Taiwan, the group said that since it took power, the Kuomintang had 'tried to interfere in state- and privately-owned media, while violence by certain activists further undermined press freedom'. The ranking came as a shock to Taiwan, which has been proud of its hard-won democracy and freedom of speech over the years. 'With just a vague and short statement, we found such a ranking unacceptable,' cabinet spokesman Su Jun-pin said. Su said the government of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, formed in May last year, had never tried to control the local media. He said the deadly typhoon disaster in August had resulted in sharp criticism of the government by all media, even those that usually supported the administration.