Tuesday

31st Mar 2020

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Opinion

Europe to make media, media to make Europe

Europe is a machine that makes peace, not war. But one part of its peace arsenal should be independent, transnational media and foreign language broadcasts.

European reporters' unions want EU to back journalism as ‘public good'

In response to the crisis of journalism in Europe, journalists' unions from across the continent are to launch a campaign to press the EU to encourage member states to strengthen the sector. If governments can fund theatre and art galleries to protect cultural pluralism, they say, they can fund journalism to protect information pluralism as well.

Opinion

My boss, the 'terrorist'

Only Russia ranks lower than Turkey in terms of press freedom in Europe, as Erdogan becomes ever more brazen.

Coronavirus

EU states urged to share sick patients

EU states should take in sick people from Italy and Spain in a show of solidarity amid foreign propaganda attacks, MEPs have said.

News in Brief

  1. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  2. EU Commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  3. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter
  4. Globally over 780,000 cases of coronavirus, 37,000 deaths
  5. EU states losing 3% of GDP a month, IMF says
  6. Fruit pickers need to cross borders too, EU says
  7. Former Slovak minister to become EU envoy on Kosovo-Serbia
  8. Hungary's Orban wins rule-by-decree vote in parliament

Podcast

Věra Jourová on surveillance and Covid-19

Commissioner for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, says Brussels will vet moves in Hungary to give prime minister Viktor Orbán scope to rule by decree and urges Facebook and Google to push official health advice to WhatsApp and YouTube.

Agenda

EU struggles to remain united This WEEK

EU countries continue to wrestle with economic shock of pandemic and with sharing of medical resources, posing deep questions on solidarity in the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us