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May 4, 2021

Europe’s lowest-ranked countries for journalistic freedom

Luke Hurst
Journalists Ekaterina Bakhvalova, right, and Daria Chultsova, on trial in Belarus this year after covering a protest against Lukashenko. AP Photo
Journalists Ekaterina Bakhvalova, right, and Daria Chultsova, on trial in Belarus this year after covering a protest against Lukashenko. AP Photo

The world of journalism faces “drastic losses,” the UN has warned, as it highlights the importance of ‘information as a public good’ on World Press Freedom day.

The intergovernmental organization says the current coronavirus crisis has forced closures and job cuts within the industry, while other media outlets are facing “political capture”.

The result is more “creeping news deserts” in countries where journalists are unable to get accurate information out to the public.

In April, the journalism NGO Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) released its global index of press freedom, highlighting how the pandemic has given authoritarian regimes an excuse to crack down on journalism.

To mark World Press Freedom Day, Euronews takes a look at the state of press freedom in the 10 countries with the worst ranking in Europe, according to RSF’s index.

Belarus

A country that has been labelled ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’, Belarus is the worst ranked in the continent for press freedom.

Its inhospitable environment for journalists who are trying to do their jobs was brought into the spotlight following the disputed re-election of Alexander Lukashenko as president last August.

Many journalists faced arrest and detention for attempting to document the widespread protest movement against the regime of the only man to have held the presidency in the 26 years since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union.

The authorities there also cut off access to the internet. Data collected by RSF and the Belarusian Association of Journalists showed police deliberately used violence against reporters with the “clear aim of gagging the media”.

RSF says Belarus was the most dangerous country in Europe for journalists in 2020. The Belarusian Association of Journalists documented 336 detentions and 60 incidents of violence against journalists in the months after the presidential vote.

Turkey

Holding the record of being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists as recently as last year – according to PEN and RSF – journalists continue to face crackdowns on work critical of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

As of 2021 RSF says China has surpassed Turkey in its jailing of journalists, but it remains the second-worst country in Europe on RSF’s index.

It explains that the government controls some 90% of the national media through government regulators, and discriminatory practices in the issuing of press cards and advertising spots.

Russia

Russia has cracked down further on freedom of the press amid not only the coronavirus pandemic, but also as part of its fight against Vladimir Putin’s highest-profile critic, Alexei Navalny.

In January the EU’s foreign affairs chief said he deplored detention and use of force against journalists amid the protests.

RSF says lockdown measures have given authorities further grounds for obstructing the work of journalists in the country.

Bulgaria

Until 2021’s index, Bulgaria was the bottom-ranked country in Europe for press freedom for three years straight.

RSF called it ‘the black sheep of the EU” in 2020, and maintains that outspoken journalists are “constantly subjected not only to smear campaigns and harassment by the state, but also to intimidation and violence.”

Montenegro

Despite the new government in 2020 saying improving conditions for press freedom in the country was a priority, there has been no significant legislative changes to allow this to happen, according to RSF.

Meanwhile, the state of the media hasn’t done the country’s hopes of joining the EU any favours.

Ukraine

RSF has welcomed what it calls “long-awaited reforms” that have taken place regarding the media sector following Ukraine’s 2014 revolution which saw the ousting of the former pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych.

However, it says ongoing “information warfare” with Russia has had negative consequences on press freedom, including bans on Russian media and social media, cyber harassment, and treason trials.

Ukraine fell one place in the 2021 press freedom index rankings to 97th.

Serbia

Serbia remained in 93rd place in the 2021 rankings, with warnings from RSF that the country is “prey to fake news spread by government-backed sensational media”.

Journalists continue to face “almost daily attacks”, and RSF highlights the case against journalist Ana Lalić, who was arrested and held overnight for reporting on a local hospital during the pandemic.

Hungary

Just above Serbia in the global list is Hungary, at 92.

The EU said concerns over “media freedom and pluralism” in the country had only increased in February when the authorities suspended the license of the country’s first independent radio station.

Independent media has been under threat in the country since Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s return to power in 2010.

RSF says the law, which banned reporting on local hospitals, has had a “chilling effect”

North Macedonia

The state of emergency as a result of the pandemic has worsened the situation for journalists in North Macedonia, RSF says, and has emboldened an already “well-entrenched culture of impunity” regarding assault on media freedom.

But RSF says that a new penal code that is being drafted should make things safer for journalists.

Moldova

RSF ranks Moldova at 89 on its 2021 index, citing “ownership concentration” and “lack of editorial independence and quality journalism” as challenges for the media there.

It is a country with diverse “but extremely polarised” media, a reflection of the political situation in the country.

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