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24th Aug 2019

Europe 'drifting downwards' on press freedom

  • 'Europe has been drifting downwards in the press freedom index for years' (Photo: Ed Yourdon)

Although European countries still rank top of Reporters without Borders' annual press freedom index, published Thursday (12 February), the organisation found that press freedom in Europe has been declining in absolute terms.

“The EU appears to be swamped by a certain desire on the part of some member states to compromise on freedom of information”, the Paris-based NGO body said.

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The index ranks 180 countries based on both qualitative and quantitative criteria regarding freedom of information.

European countries are still doing relatively well, with 16 of the top 20 spots belonging to European nations. Finland tops the list, as it did last year, followed by Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

But the relatively good performance hides the decline in absolute scores. Almost all European countries in the top 20 performed worse than a year ago. Belgium improved both in relative and absolute terms.

“Europe has been drifting downwards in the press freedom index for years”, the organisation noted.

“It held steady in last year’s index but, overall, it fell again in the 2015 index although the Nordic countries continued to hold the top positions. This general decline reinforces concern about the sustainability of the 'European model'.”

Even the winner receives a scolding.

“In Finland, growing competition drove media groups into mergers in order to be able to lay off staff … A collateral effect of the reduction in the number of newsrooms was a loss of independence.”

The scores vary across Europe, even across the EU: Europe's best and worst performers are over a hundred spots apart.

Non-EU countries Macedonia (117) and Montenegro (114) did worst on the continent.

Bulgaria, an EU member since 2007, is ranked at 106, down six places from last year.

“The Financial Oversight Commission, a government agency [in Bulgaria], has in practice been turned into a media cop. Imposing fines and ordering journalists to reveal their sources, it clearly betrays a government desire to silence media that dare to point out problems in banks and the regulatory system", the report said.

Greece (91) climbed in the ranking “because the government finally seemed to take appropriate measures to combat the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which has no qualms about using violence against journalists”.

Hungary (65), often criticised on media freedoms by EU officials, was under fire because "prime minister Viktor Orban has continued to hound the independent media".

But it still did better than Italy (73), which performed relatively badly because of a “disturbing increase in violence against journalists”, but also because of “abusive defamation suits”.

Another regular recipient of EU criticism on media freedom is Turkey, which performed slightly better than last year, but still lingers in the bottom quarter at 149.

The five least-free countries regarding media, says the report, are Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, and China.

This article originally said that all European countries in the top 20 performed worse than a year ago. The article has been corrected to say that Belgium did improve, both relatively and in absolute terms.

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