Freedom of the Press 2017: Dark Horizon

According to key findings of the Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2017 report, global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016 amid unprecedented threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies and new moves by authoritarian states to control the media, including beyond their borders.

Only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a Free press—that is, a media environment 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, the report reads.

Forty-five percent of the population lives in countries where the media environment is Not Free.

As for Europe, the report notes that for decades it has maintained an exemplary level of respect for democratic standards and human rights, and has generally continued to do so in recent years despite serious economic turmoil. However, Europe is not without problems:

“Many countries have developed problems related to their treatment of immigrants and minorities, and press freedom faces threats in a number of states. In addition, several countries in the Balkans are still consolidating their democratic institutions and will require further monitoring to ensure continued progress”, the report notes about Europe.

In the Freedom of the Press 2017 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.

Country reports for most of South East European countries are not available as yet.

In a short note about the state of press freedom in the Western Balkans, the report states:

“Political leaders in Western Balkan countries placed greater pressure on independent media, apparently emboldened by the EU’s flagging commitment to enforcing democratic standards among aspiring member states (…) A chilling effect among critical journalists, coupled with a more passive EU, has created new opportunities for Russia’s Balkan-based media outlets, which promote themes of shared Slavic history and culture as well as conspiracy theories about threats posed by NATO.”

South East Europe – Turkey and Macedonia: Not Free

Turkey has a score of 76 – Not Free (last year – 71 – Not Free). Macedonia’s score is 64 – Not Free (last year – 62 – Not Free).

As for Turkey, the report says that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have overseen a “substantial decline in press freedom over the past decade, aggressively using the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and antiterrorism legislation to jail large numbers of journalists and punish critical reporting”. “The authorities have also employed legal tools and the state’s economic leverage to seize or engineer changes in ownership at major media groups, resulting in more consistently progovernment coverage by mainstream outlets”, the report reads.

Media freedom deteriorated dramatically in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016. The press was particularly affected by the crackdown. More than 150 media outlets were forcibly shut down and had their assets seized in the months following the coup, the report notes.

Although available figures of detained and jailed journalists differ, going up to 145, Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists, according to the report.

Additionally, more than 2,700 media workers reportedly lost their jobs, hundreds lost their press credentials, an unknown number had their passports revoked and were forbidden from leaving the country, and 54 journalists had their properties confiscated, the report reads.

Although the report for Macedonia is unavailable as yet, the overview of the situation in the Western Balkans stresses that:

 “in Macedonia, the ruling party wielded considerable control over the news cycle through the public broadcaster and friendly private outlets, and reporters risked attacks while covering antigovernment protests, including by police.”

Most countries in South East Europe – partly free

Among the SEE countries, Slovenia is the only Free country with the score 23 (unchanged from last year).

The rest of the countries are listed here according to their Freedom of the Press rank:

Romania – 38 – partly free (no change since last year)

Croatia – 41 – partly free (42 last year)

Bulgaria – 42 partly free (40 last year)

Montenegro – 44 – partly free (41 last year)

Kosovo – 48 – partly free (49 last year)

Serbia – 49 – partly free (45 last year, partly free). Serbia is among the countries that suffered the largest declines, along with Poland, Turkey, Burundi, Hungary, Bolivia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report notes that press freedom in Serbia has eroded under the SNS-led administration of Prime Minister Vučić. “Independent and investigative journalists face frequent harassment, including by government officials and in progovernment media.”, the report stresses adding that “Physical attacks against journalists take place each year, and death threats and other intimidation targeting media workers are a serious concern.”

“In 2016, Vučić and a number of government-friendly outlets continued to portray investigative and critical media organizations as foreign-backed propagandists seeking to damage the government and destabilize Serbia. The progovernment Informer often smears critical outlets and reporters, claiming that they have links to mafia groups or foreign intelligence agencies. “

“A recent media privatization drive meant to bring the country in line with European Union (EU) market requirements has left the ownership structures of many privatized outlets unclear, though it appears that some were purchased by politically connected actors who use them as party mouthpieces, particularly for the SNS.” 

Albania – score 51 partly free (no change since last year)

Bosnia and Herzegovina – 51 – partly free (50 last year)

Moldova – 56partly free (no change since last year)