23rd Oct 2016

Greece plummets in press freedom ranking

  • The situation for journalists in Europe has worsened (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

More than half of the EU's 27 countries score badly in the annual press freedom index carried out by the Paris-based NGO Reporters without Borders - a negative trend compared to previous years, even though three EU members are the freest places in the world in which to be a journalist.

"It is disturbing to see several European Union member countries continuing to fall in the index. If it does not pull itself together, the EU risks losing its position as world leader in respect for human rights," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-Francois Julliard said in a statement accompanying the study on Wednesday (20 October).

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Thirteen of the EU's 27 members are in the world top 20. But some of the other 14 stand very low while the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen, the report says.

The poor performers include France and Italy, where events in the past year – violation of the protection of journalists' sources, concentration of media ownership, displays of contempt by government officials and judicial summonses - continue to follow a negative line.

Italy, where some 10 journalists still live under police protection, stayed in 49th place out of 178, scoring worse than Bosnia and sharing the same position as Burkina Faso.

Greece got the worst marks in the EU, plummeting a huge 35 places to 70, where it now sits alongside the bloc's other meida villain, Bulgaria.

The Greek plunge is due to political unrest and related physical attacks on journalists. Athens was also criticised for "political meddling," going so far as to ask the German government to apologise for nasty headlines about the Greek economic crisis in the Stern magazine.

Romania went down two places to 52. Reporters Without Borders noted that the government now considers the media a threat to national security and plans to censor activities.

Recently published wiretaps of conversations between one of Romania's most influential media owners, Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, and various journalists and politicians show a staggering disrespect for press rights.

"You are not free, sonny," he told one of the directors of his media trust. "If you're OK with it, you work, if you're not, you leave, what's the big deal?"

Defending Mr Vantu's own "interests" - he is currently under criminal investigation for helping a fugitive - has become one of the core tasks of his TV and print outlets. "If I have an interest, then the whole media trust has that interest. Any dissident will be fired. Everybody has all the freedom in the world: They can leave when they want if they don't like it," he said.

At the top end, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands share the pole position with non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The group-of-six has held the top score since the index was created in 2002.

Iceland won special praise for its bill, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), to provide a unique level of legal protection for reporters.

The survey did not mention the strange case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden. Swedish prosecutors earlier this year published details of a sexual assault charge against Mr Assange hot on the heels of his publication of US military secrets in what some media watchdogs feared was a US-backed smear campaign.

In Denmark, which holds 11th place, murder attempts against Mohammed cartoonists Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks, could create a climate of self-censorship, Reporters Without Borders warned.

The survey also pointed to serious violations on the EU's doorstep.

EU candidate Turkey was placed in 138th place, next to Ethiopia (139) and Russia (140). The NGO spoke of a "frenzied proliferation of lawsuits [and] incarcerations" of reporters.

EU aspirant Ukraine placed at 131. "Censorship has signalled its return, particularly in the audiovisual sector," the study said on the return to power of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukoych.

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