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18th Jan 2019

European states still top media freedom list

  • Reporters without Borders said Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban 'has steadily tightened his grip on the media'. Hungary dropped from 67 to 71. (Photo: Facebook - Nepszabi Szerkesztoseg)

Europe is still a beacon of press freedom, but its good performance relative to other parts of the world masks an overall decline in standards, according to the Press Freedom Index, published on Wednesday (26 April).

The index, compiled by Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF), ranks 180 countries based on scores derived from questionnaires put to journalists, lawyers and sociologists, as well as data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists.

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  • Media freedom and pluralism in Poland are 'in jeopardy', said RSF. (Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

Of the 20 best performing countries, 15 are in Europe. Twelve of them are EU members, which is slightly better than in 2016, when 11 of the twenty best-ranking countries were EU members – Portugal moved up from place 23 to place 18.

Norway tops the list, followed by Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Last year, Finland was number one, and the Netherlands number two.

But RSF is worried about the underlying trends, saying: “Media freedom’s erosion is particularly visible in the European democracies.”

The lower the score, the more free the press, with North Korea receiving a score of 84.98.

But really low scores are becoming increasingly rare. Best performer Norway received 7.60, which is worse than the seven best countries in 2013.

Poland, where media freedom and pluralism are said to be “in jeopardy”, dropped from place 47 to place 54, while Hungary – whose prime minister Viktor Orban “has steadily tightened his grip on the media” – dropped from 67 to 71.

The worst EU performer in the 2017 edition of the ranking was Bulgaria, even though it climbed from 113 to 109.

“This is due to an environment dominated by corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs,” RSF said.

“The [Bulgarian] government’s allocation of EU funding to certain media outlets is conducted with a complete lack of transparency, in effect bribing editors to go easy on the government in their political reporting or refrain from covering certain problematic stories altogether.”

Because of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's “witch hunt” against media critics, Turkey took place 155, behind Belarus (153) and Russia (148).

In its accompanying press statements, RSF also said US president Donald Trump was carrying out a witch hunt against journalists.

“The hate speech used by the new boss in the White House and his accusations of lying also helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries,” the group said.

RSF also said it was worried about France, even though it achieved a better absolute score and climbed from place 45 to place 39.

“The French too are falling into the trap of 'alternative facts' and 'post-truths', and succumbing to a poisonous and violent environment in which it has become normal to hiss and jeer at journalists at meetings, or even throw them out,” RSF said.

EU hesitant on Hungary newspaper closure

Journalists from Hungary's largest newspaper were locked out of their office for a second day on Monday, but the EU Commission said it was powerless to help.

Germany led way on EU human rights protection

Germany led the way on protection of human rights this year, but Hungary, Italy, and Poland "undermined the EU's moral standing" on the world stage, a leading NGO said.

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