MEDIA FREEDOM INDEX FOR 2021!

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Freedom of the media, freedom of expression, and access to reliable information are the main foundations and backbones on which every functional, civilized, and democratic society rests. This is what the theory, the academic community, the European Union say… But the practice shows something completely different, which is supported by the announcement of Reporters Without Borders on media freedoms in the world for 2021. This report presents a cross-section of the state of media freedom based on an assessment of pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legislative framework, and journalists’ security in each country.

Many governments have used the coronavirus pandemic to cover all their failures in both the country's policy and in the fight against the pandemic to restrict journalists’ access to information, sources, and obstruction of field reporting. So the public often has access only to the data on the pandemic provided by the state, which provides a lot of space for manipulation. The Reporters Without Borders report for last year is devastating and records a dramatic decline in media freedom around the world. Media work was partially or completely blocked in more than 130 of the 180 countries analyzed.

Reporters Without Borders’ Media Freedom Index for 2021 showed that media freedoms were restricted in 59 countries, and completely blocked or severely hampered in 73 of the 180 countries analyzed, representing 73% of the total number of countries analyzed. These countries are classified as “very bad”, “bad” or “problematic” for media freedom and are marked in black, red, or orange on the World Press Freedom Map.

COUNTRIES OF THE WESTERN BALKANS

When it comes to the countries of the Western Balkans, they are in the orange zone, which is assessed as a “problematic” state of the media. Among them, Bosnia and Herzegovina is by far the best. Kosovo recorded the biggest drop by as many as 8 places and is currently in 78th place, followed by Albania in 83rd, Northern Macedonia in 90th, Serbia in 93rd and Montenegro in 104th place.

According to the Media Freedoms Index for 2021, although it occupies the best position among the countries of the Western Balkans, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina has not improved at all compared to the previous year, as it is still in 58th place out of 180 countries. Although our country has the most liberal media laws that guarantee a high degree of media freedom, their great shortcoming is their improper implementation and enforcement. According to the report, a polarized political climate prevails in BiH, permeated by constant verbal attacks and nationalist rhetoric, thus creating fertile ground for creating a hostile environment for media freedom. Editorial policies that reflect ethnic divisions and hate speech, increasing attacks on journalists due to ethnic origin, a hostile climate when it comes to reporting on migrants, politicians’ defamation lawsuits as intimidation and pressure on journalists, even though defamation was decriminalized in 2003., non-transparency of media ownership and increased private sector control over the media, unfavorable working conditions (short-term contracts and low wages), regime media through which political parties place their information and campaign, limited access of journalists to information, legal insecurity of journalists and lack of regulation in certain areas (law on online media) and the Coronavirus pandemic are all factors that have greatly threatened media freedom and the position of journalists during 2020.

Of particular concern are the increasing incidence of online violence and the increasing number of threats that journalists receive through social networks and in comments on Internet portals.

At the World Index of Media Freedoms, Serbia is declining from year to year and currently ranks 93rd, which indicates that media freedoms are increasingly being violated and that there is less and less space for critical journalists and media. With the arrival of Aleksandar Vučić to power, media freedoms have significantly decreased and Serbia has become a country insecure for journalists, where fake news from the pro-government media is becoming more visible and alarmingly popular. Journalists do not enjoy the support of the authorities and are legally unprotected, many attacks on journalists have remained uninvestigated and perpetrators unpunished. Attacks on the media and journalists have become commonplace, not only verbal but also death threats where we have a case of arson in the house of Milan Jovanovic who wrote about corruption at the local level. But in this situation, a shift was made and the perpetrators were brought to justice and punished. Furthermore, we have the case of journalist Ana Lalic who was held overnight in a cell in April 2020, after being arrested at her home for reports of a local hospital regarding a lack of equipment to fight the pandemic. This was all due to the enactment of a draconian law (which was later repealed) and an attempt to introduce official censorship using the pandemic crisis.

Montenegro is ranked the worst of all the Balkan countries. Although there was a change of government after 20 years, no significant improvement took place. The new Montenegrin government cited strengthening media freedom and improving working conditions for journalists as a priority, and announced changes to the 2019 media laws, but all that remained in the form of mere promises.

State from the region that has the privilege to have the best position is Slovenia, which is ranked at the 36th position, followed by Croatia, which recorded a decline of 3 places and is in 56th place, and this is its best ranking since 2013. Croatian journalists investigating corruption, organized (war) crimes are often exposed to harassment and various pressures. “Humiliating” media content has been criminalized since 2013, and physical attacks, threats, and cyber-violence remain a major problem, as is the government's passivity in taking concrete protection measures. At least 924 lawsuits against the media and journalists are currently active in Croatia, of which prosecutors are demanding almost HRK 78.5 million, which shows that the prosecution of journalists and the media continues. Although that number is in reality even higher. Politicians, judges, and powerful people have found a legal mechanism for censoring, intimidating, and silencing critical journalists and the media through lawsuits, high fines, and defense costs.

THE STATE OF MEDIA FREEDOM IN OTHER COUNTRIES

At the top of the list of the safest countries for journalists, the first 12 places marked in white for many years are certainly the Scandinavian countries, which are known for their well-developed public support for journalistic work. Norway has been in the first place as the best-positioned country for five years in a row, although, as it is stated, the media in that country complained about the lack of access to state information about the pandemic. Finland retained second place, while Sweden regained its third position, which last year was held by Denmark, which took fourth place this year. This year, only 12 out of 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favorable media environment, compared to 13 countries (8%) last year.

Yellow marks the 13th (Germany) to 48th place in Romania. Germany was stripped of its classification as “good” because dozens of its journalists were attacked by supporters of extremist groups and groups that support conspiracy theories during protests against restrictions imposed in the fight against the pandemic. The United States also belongs to the yellow zone, ranking 44th and down one place, although the last year of former President Trump was marked by a record number of attacks on journalists (about 400 cases) and arrests of journalists (130) as they tried to cover protests. across the country against systemic racism and police brutality against colored people. But with the arrival of new President Biden, the situation is improving where he promises to support the environment of truth and points out that the goal of his administration is for the United States to regain the status of a world beacon of freedom of expression.

Russia belongs to the red zone because its situation is classified as “bad” and is in 150th place. It set in motion its repressive apparatus to limit and control media coverage of the protests in support of Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny. Major TV channels continue to bombard viewers with propaganda, and vague and selective laws are used to arbitrarily arrest journalists who are often labeled “foreign agents.” Turkey also belongs to this group, which ranks 153rd. In “New Turkey” under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Internet censorship has reached its peak. Turkish military operations along the border with Syria, political manipulations of the Syrian refugee crisis, and the coronary virus pandemic have been used as major tools to strengthen authoritarian policies towards critical media and use the first-instance system for political purposes. The government controls 90% of the national media, and criticizing and holding the government accountable is now almost impossible, as pluralism seeks to be removed by all possible means. Belarus has fallen by five places compared to 2020 and is now 158th out of 180 countries, and the description states that it is “the most dangerous country in Europe for journalists.” 97 journalists were arrested in Belarus last year, 11 are currently in prison, and 50 Internet sites have been blocked.

Countries that are painted black are classified as a “very bad” environment for media freedom and range from 160 to 180 seats. China ranks 177th, which continues to tighten internet censorship, surveillance, and propaganda to unprecedented levels. Next, China is followed by three totalitarian states that are always in the last three places Turkmenistan (178), North Korea (179), and in last place Eritrea. These countries have absolute control over all news and information with claims that they have not had COVID-19 cases.

At least 30 journalists were killed worldwide in 2020, while 21 of them were killed for their work, which is ten more than last year. Other journalists were killed in firefighting or fighting in conflict areas, but also on other tasks that proved life-threatening. Mexico (143) was the most devastating country for journalists where cartels, criminal groups, and militants were responsible for killing journalists, followed by Afghanistan (122), the Philippines (138), Syria (173). According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), last year had the lowest number of murders of journalists since 2000 – 26. In Iran (174) we have a case of the direct and public killing of journalists by the government. Iran executed journalist Ruhollah Zam on December 12 for critically reporting on Iranian officials and providing information on the timing and locations of protests in 2017. The death penalty was hanging. The situation is most dangerous for journalists involved in investigative journalism and following the police in their reports, violence related to illegal narcotics and crime. Of particular concern is gender-based violence directed at female journalists.

“Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and sometimes even cultural factors. In response to the viral nature of cross-border disinformation, on digital platforms and social networks, journalism is the main way to ensure that the public debate is based on a diverse set of facts, ”Deloire noted.

What we can conclude is that media freedoms are threatened and that there is a climate of fear and tension in the media world where hatred and animosity towards journalists turn into violence. The number of countries marked as safe for journalists is constantly declining and authoritarian authorities around the world are tightening the noose around the media. Another big problem is the fact that media houses are owned by politicians, powerful people, oligarchs who control newspapers and television and use them as a tool to achieve personal goals. Based on all these information, we can speak of a globally uncertain climate for journalists.

References:

  1. Reporters Without Borders website, https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2021
  2. Georgi Gotev, 2021, World Press Freedom Index 2021: EU getting more heterogeneous [online], EURACTIV.com, Available from https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/world-press-freedom-index-2021-eu-getting-more-heterogeneous/ [Accessed 8 May 2021]

Author: Nataša Vuković

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman