Thursday

9th Dec 2021

Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom

  • Bulgaria's PM Borissov (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Press freedom in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta ranks among the worst in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based NGO.

From journalists' murders to media take-overs by oligarchs close to state powers, the three EU states were portrayed as an embarrassment for the European Union.

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Released on Thursday (18 April), the RSF annual report looked at 180 countries and found that Bulgaria was by far the poorest when it came to EU member states.

The country held the EU's rotating presidency only last year.

But the murder of TV journalist Viktoria Marinova in October, followed by a botched investigation, and collusion between corrupt politicians, oligarchs and media, have earned Bulgaria a ranking of 111, where 1 is the best and 180 the worst.

That meant press freedoms in Ethiopia and Angola were now marginally better than in an EU member country.

China, Russia and Turkey by comparison, respectively, scored 177, 149, and 157.

Meanwhile, Hungary was not much ahead of Bulgaria at 87.

The rule of prime minister Viktor Orban has seen independent media squeezed and critical outlets shut down.

Earlier this year, Orban's Fidesz government used its control of some 500 media outlets, including all regional papers and public broadcasters, to peddle xenophobia and misleading messages on migration.

"On the streets, on the papers, on internet websites and in broadcast media, you will come across these lies," Marta Pardavi, who co-chairs the Budapest-based Hungarian Helsinki Committee, told this website in February.

Hungary, along with Poland, have both been slapped with the so-called Article 7 procedure that could strip them of their voting rights at the Council over wider and "systemic" abuses of EU values and rule of law,

But the sanctions procedure has been bogged down under a Romanian EU presidency whose political masters in Bucharest are themselves under fire for similar problems.

The still-unresolved murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, 18 months after her death, also remains a blight in a country whose government has refused calls for an independent public inquiry.

Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat is even pursuing libel cases against the late journalist, whose reporting uncovered kick-back schemes and shady government ties to Azerbaijan and Russia.

The island-nation came in at 77 on the RSF global press freedom index.

The NGO's report noted that most media in Malta were owned by political parties and that the pro-government state broadcaster failed to report on high-level corruption.

Caruana Galizia had led the Maltese side of the Panama Papers investigation, which exposed offshore accounts of political figures who remain state ministers to this day.

Among them is tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, who filed a case in Malta this week claiming that further probes into Panama Papers revelations would violate his human rights.

Norway ranks as having the world's best press freedoms, followed by EU states Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

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The European Commission has branded the latest campaign by the Hungarian government as 'fake news', after Orban's government accused Juncker of pressing ahead with migration proposals that threaten the country's security.

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Press freedom in Balkans better than some EU states

EU candidate countries such as Albania, Montenegro and Serbia have relatively poor press freedoms - but still fare much better than Bulgaria, an EU state whose ranking in the World Press Freedom index has plummeted.

Analysis

What's behind the sudden political unrest in Bulgaria?

Demonstrators are demanding prime minister Boyko Borissov and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev resign, following a raid on the president's office. President Rumen Radev has been a vocal critic of the government and its record on graft.

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