The rise of populist politics in Europe has weakened press freedom in a region where it was once most secure, according to Reporters Without Borders. China, Russia and Donald Trump also pose a triple threat. Hostility towards journalists and media poses a serious threat to democracies around the world, including Europe, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index on Wednesday. Europe is still the region where press freedom is highest, but it also worsened the most out of all other regions this year.
Out of the top five countries where the press freedom situation deteriorated the most, four of them are located in Europe. Malta, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Serbia all fell substantially on the ranking. The watchdog voiced particular concern about the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta followed by the killing of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak just five months later. With the rise of populist politics and “strongman” leaders, Europe’s downward trend will likely continue, RSF said. Last year, Czech President Milos Zeman showed up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov bearing the words “for journalists.” Slovakia’s former leader Robert Fico also called journalists “filthy, anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas. I think the developments in central and eastern Europe make it clear that we are dealing in many cases with not yet established democracies, whose EU membership may have come too early,” Christian Mihr, the head of the German branch of RSF, told DW. The situation in Poland and Hungary is also particularly concerning, the watchdog said. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban came out in support of a pro-government magazine after they published a list of 200 people he accused of being “mercenaries” paid by US Hungarian billionaire George Soros. According to Mihr, lists of foreign correspondents who are “unwelcome” have also been circulating through Hungarian media, including freelance journalist Keno Verseck, who also reports for DW.
RSF said that animosity towards journalists is “no longer confined to authoritarian countries such as Turkey and Egypt,” but has entered others as well. The watchdog accused US President Donald Trump, Russia and China of perpetrating anti-media rhetoric and actively seeking to curb press freedom. The report voiced particular concern about the “censorship and surveillance” of journalists in China, as well as President Xi Jinping’s efforts to export its “oppressive” media model across Asia. “Xi Jinping’s China is getting closer and closer to a contemporary version of totalitarianism,” the report read.
Norway held its place at the top of the World Press Freedom Index for the second year in a row, while North Korea remained last in the last place out of the 180 countries ranked. Germany rose one place up to number 15 while the United States fell two spots under Trump to 45. The country that made the biggest jump on the list was the Gambia, which jumped 22 spots to reach number 122. RSF noted that the media situation has greatly improved since the end of ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year-rule. The situation of press freedom on the continent of Africa improved compared to last year’s Index, although RSF noted there was a wide variation between the countries. Turkey, which has jailed the highest number of journalists worldwide, is now among the 25 most repressive countries.
Credit: Richard A. Fuchs for DW & AFP, 25 April 2018.
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