Freedom House: Press freedom is facing new threats in major democracies
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Translation: Fairpress

Author: Fairpress editorial

According to the Freedom House analysis drawn from the findings of their most recent Freedom in the World, Freedom on the Net, and Nations in Transit research projects and from its in-country programs, media independence is under pressure in every region of the world. The Freedom House special report titled „Attacks on the Record: The State of Global Press Freedom, 2017-2018“ shows that press freedom is facing new threats in major democracies, but also in repressive states, where authorities are focusing their efforts on social media and other online platforms after subduing the independence of major print and broadcast outlets. In this article we bring you some of the key findings and issues as stated in the mentioned report, with focus on the balkan region and Europe.

It is stressed that in today’s world, populist leaders constitute a major threat to free expression in open societies such as the United States of America and Europe. Namely, as it is stated in the mentioned report, populist leaders are intentionally denouncing critical media and their coverage as biased, and the factual information they report as “fake,” weakening their credibility and leaving citizens unsure whom to believe. The leaders then have more leeway to dictate their own narrative and divert attention from corruption and other abuses.

Regarding the U.S. the report says that president Donald Trump’s use of threatening rhetoric and his repeated disparagements of specific journalists and outlets have undermined public trust in fact-based journalism. However, the positive thing is that media organizations and independent journalists have maintained robust coverage of the administration and other topics of public interest.

As far as Russia is concerned, the Russian government took further steps to control the internet, adopting various new legislation, such as a law requiring messaging applications and other online services to identify their users, a new government strategy calling for all information infrastructure to be consolidated under state control by 2030 and so on.

When writing about Europe the report mentions the media landscape and situation in Hungary, Turkey and Serbia. As it is

stated in the report, in Hungary, wealthy business people that are associated with the ruling Fidesz party acquired most of the last bastions of independent journalism, including the leading online newspaper and all remaining regional newspapers. The purchases went forward without objections from the Hungarian Competition Authority or the Media Council. Turkey remained the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with 73 behind bars as of December, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The government permanently blocked Wikipedia in late April 2017, and 17 journalists from an opposition newspaper were tried on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. As far as Serbia is concerned, the newspaper Danas suffered a rapid cancelation of advertising contracts after it failed to support Aleksandar Vučić’s successful candidacy in the 2017 presidential election, while progovernment media were bolstered by front-page advertisem.

Regarding countries that might experience important media freedom developments in the coming year, the report lists the following: Cuba, Iran, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Zambia.

Further regarding journalists the report states that  even as they face harassment and arrest in a growing number of countries, their work can still expose egregious abuses, help victims find safety, and hold the corrupt and the dishonest to account. In dictatorships and democracies alike, courageous journalists have defied powerful interests to bring stories to the public, enabling their audiences to take action and bring about real change.

It is also stressed that if the free press, an essential component of democratic governance, is to survive as such, other elements of the democratic immune system must work to support it. These include opposition parties, an impartial judicial system, civil society organizations, and, most important, citizens—those who provide the revenue that keeps journalists in business and the votes that keep politicians in power.

The full special report is available here

 

This article was created with the support of the Fund for the Promotion of Pluralism and Diversity of Electronic Media within the project “Media Reality” – Developing and Encouraging the Media Literacy Programme

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