Freedom of the Press 2016: Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey Decline

press freedom

According to key findings of the Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2016 report, press freedom declined to its lowest level in 12 years in 2015, as political, criminal, and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power.

Only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a free press—that is, where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.

41 percent of the world’s population has a Partly Free press, and 46 percent live in Not Free media environments.

Over the past 10 years, Europe as a whole has suffered the largest drop in press freedom of any region in the Freedom of the Press report. This has been driven in part by the weakening European economies and shrinking advertising revenues, which have led to layoffs, closure of outlets, and further concentration of media ownership. Other contributing factors include new laws restricting media activity, and increases in violence against and intimidation of journalists in retaliation for their reporting.

In the Freedom of the Press 2016 report, each country and territory receives a numerical score from
0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free), which serves as the basis for a status designation of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.

Western Balkans and Turkey

Attacks against journalists by various perpetrators in the Western Balkans contributed to an overall decline in media freedom there. In Serbia (score 45; Partly Free), multiple journalists suffered physical assaults, contributing to heightened self-censorship across the media sector. Attacks and death threats in Macedonia (score 62; Not Free) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (score 50; partly free) also raised concerns, with numerous violations committed against reporters who were investigating government corruption. Serious questions remain about whether these countries’ governments are genuine in their stated commitments to European norms for media freedom and independence, reads the Freedom House report.

Among the countries that suffered the biggest declines in 2015 were Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey, along with Bangladesh, Burundi, France, Yemen, Egypt and Zimbabwe.

Macedonia (score 62;  Not Free) declined due to revelations indicating large-scale and illegal government wiretapping of journalists, corrupt ties between officials and media owners, and an increase in threats and attacks on media workers. According to the report findings, Macedonia is the only country with Not Free status in South East Europe.

Read detailed report on Macedonia

Serbia (score 45; Partly Free) declined due to the Vučić government’s hostile rhetoric toward investigative journalists, reported censorship of journalists and media outlets, and a decrease in the availability of critical, independent reporting.

Turkey (score 71; Not Free) declined due to the imprisonment of media personnel on fabricated charges related to national security, throttling of Internet service after major news events, severe restrictions on foreign journalists, including imprisonment and deportation, recurrent violence against media personnel and production facilities, and abrupt changes in media regulations.

In Turkey, the government took advantage of real and perceived security threats to intensify its crackdown on the media. Authorities continued to use terrorism-related laws to arrest critical journalists, censor online outlets, and deport foreign correspondents—usually in connection with the Kurdish insurgency, the conflict in Syria, or the Gülen movement.

Authorities loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seized critical private media groups and turned them over to politically friendly trustees—a new tactic in the government’s ongoing assault on press freedom. In October 2015, state officials took over Koza İpek Holding, the owner of critical outlets including the television channels Kanaltürk and Bugün and the newspapers Bugün and Millet. In March 2016, the private media group Feza Journalism, owner of Zaman, Turkey’s largest newspaper, was also seized. Both actions were based on the companies’ association with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former Erdoğan ally who has been branded a terrorist.

Read detailed report on Turkey

The following countries were not covered by special reports, and we therefore outline the main indicators of their performance:

Albania: score 51, Partly Free

Croatia (EU member): score 42, Partly Free

Kosovo*: score 49, Partly Free

Montenegro: score 41, Partly Free

Other SEENPM countries

Among the other countries in which SEENPM members are based, the best performer is Slovenia (EU member), ranked as Free with the score of 23. Slovenia is the only country whose press was ranked as Free in the South East Europe.

Romania (EU member), with the score 38 is Partly Free, and so is Bulgaria (EU member) with the score 40.

The massive influx of migrants to Europe indirectly resulted in a variety of limitations on journalistic freedom. The most obvious example was in Hungary, an EU member, (score 40; Partly Free), where police attacked at least seven foreign journalists who were attempting to report on violent clashes between riot officers and migrants arriving at the country’s southern border. However, the authorities took other steps to limit journalists’ access to sites related to migrants and refugees, and the public media supported the government’s hostile stance toward them. Slanted coverage of the refugee crisis during 2015 demonstrated Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s well-established influence over state media.

Moldova (score 56; Partly Free) was one of the geopolitically significant neighbors of Russia where Moscow expanded efforts to influence news agenda and manipulate information.

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* - References to Kosovo are without prejudice to positions on status. They are in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the opinion by the International Court of Justice on the Kosovo declaration of independence.