Press Freedom Index – Analyzing the Data

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Being a journalist

Journalist job is very dynamic and, in some cases, even dangerous. To be a journalist, one needs to have excellent analytical abilities and distinguish truth from lies. In everyday work, journalists face various disinformation and hate speech, which can be a significant obstacle in delivering the correct information to the audience. In today's society, with the uprising of the internet and social media, a journalist's job is not easy at all. Although someone could say that the internet and social media platforms gave journalists extensive freedom to express their opinion freely – that is not true in all cases. Journalists have more options to place their information on various platforms than in the days of “old media.” Still, there are also more censure and fake news circulating in the public space.

Nowadays, journalists are being threatened, and their freedom of speech is under attack. In some parts of the world, the media environment is much better compared to other ones. For example, according to the Reporters Without Borders Index, Press Freedom is the highest in Scandinavian countries, where Norway is in the first place, followed by Finland and Denmark. On the other hand, authoritarian government regimes, such as those in Saudi Arabia, China, or North Korea, affect press freedom heavily, placing those countries at the same bottom of the list.

Western Balkan and the Press Freedom

Analyzing this topic, it is interesting to observe the Western Balkan region. Also, we will take a look at Italy, Bulgaria, and Turkey for a more detailed analysis. Balkan, as the turbulent region near the heart of Europe, always had its uprisings and downturns. Compared to the Press Freedom Index in other Western European countries, the Balkan region lacks behind. The highest press freedom rank has the Bosnia and Herzegovina, placed on 58 positions, followed by Kosovo (70), Albania (84), North Macedonia (92), Serbia (93) and Montenegro (105). If we include Turkey in our analysis, the situation will only deteriorate because Turkey's position (154) is far worse than the countries mentioned above. Interestingly, Bulgaria, an EU member country, is placed very low on the 111th position. On the other hand, Italy has much better results, being in the 41st position.

What are the reasons for such a situation?

There are many reasons responsible for the low press freedom environment in the Balkans. The Balkan countries are in some unfinished transition when one step forward could mean two steps backwards. However, some common patterns can be traced. According to Reporters Without Borders, division along ethnic lines and constant nationalist rhetoric is present in Bosnia and Kosovo. Lack of transparency and terrible working conditions for journalists makes them vulnerable and unprotected from various political agendas that control the media. Serbia with Albania encountered fall by 3 and 2 positions respectively compared to 2019, which sends some message to us. A significant and influential state control raises many concerns making Serbia criticized by the EU authorities. Journalists are not protected enough and often attacked. Some parallels can be drawn with the situation in Albania, as well.

In many cases, the Albanian government tried to control the media with the argument of trying to mitigate fake news, which was their alibi to create laws and regulations against press freedom. In North Macedonia, some steps forward were made, but the overall situation is not good. Cyber and verbal attack over the journalist remains a big issue. But, although there are severe obstacles for higher Press Freedom scores in the Balkans, what can we say for Bulgaria? Reporters Without Borders

Analysis argues that the Bulgarian journalism environment is faced with severe drawbacks such as corruption, political oligarchy and a complete lack of transparency. Although an EU member country, Bulgaria will need to work hard to compete with other European countries. Italy, also and EU member country showed a much better score than Bulgaria. That is not a surprise because although with some far-right party uprising, Italy was the heart of European cultural renewal after the Middle Ages. The old spirit of those times has not vanished. Besides, the situation in Turkey is not good. The authoritarian regime in Turkey cannot state arguments in its favor. Discrimination and attack towards the LGBTIQ+ community, too much religious emphasis, and numerous journalists imprisoned threaten to burry democratic tenets and direct Turkey into an authoritarian state.

Press Freedom and Fake News

It is not too hard to make a connection between the low press freedom index, and the fast spread of fake news. In areas where press freedom is under attack spreading of fake news is significantly more present. Balkan is the perfect example of such a phenomenon. Covid-19 pandemic just deteriorated the situation and enabled so-called experts to be louder and more eager in spreading their “truth“. According to the leading fact-checker website in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Raskrinkavanje.ba) during the last year, fake news spread exploded and reached its peak compared to the period before. Sensational titles and articles with ad-sense plug-ins can make a lot of money if people often click on them, and that wisdom people from the Balkans uncovered recently. For example, in Serbia, health officials, has spoken nonsense about the pandemic advising people to go shopping in Italy at the beginning of the pandemic. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, people get advice to go to the mountains and woods, take fresh air because that helps in fight against the virus. That was only the beginning. According to Raskrinkavanje.ba, posts about artificial virus made in some laboratories in China, Bill Gates responsibility for the pandemic and various conspiracy theories started to get media attention because people started to believe in it. the BBC also stated that Italy faced a fake news uprising and that such a problem appeared in Turkey and Bulgaria, as well. Therefore, a global crisis can enhance fake news spread and boost disinformation rapidly. In a globally connected world, citizens should educate themself and be well informed, because sometimes consequences can be harmful. Especially if someone advises you to take unknown pills or medics, which are not approved, by health officials and regulatory bodies. Sadly, that proved to be a case in the Covid-19 pandemic.

What to expect in the future?

The future of a journalist job in some aspects is very uncertain. Society as a whole must be proactive and express their willingness to be on the side of the journalist. Gill Phillips, writing for the Guardian, presents examples of widespread brutality to a journalist, from Mexico to Saudi Arabia and Europe. Balkan countries need to foster their democratic processes, increase transparency, fight against corruption if they aim to join the European Union. Such an approach is essential for journalists to gain more rights and freedom and better working conditions. Speaking about fake news, fact-checkers sites started to gain more visibility and to be the first step which somebody can make to see if some news are truth or lies. Therefore, everyone should try to find the fact-checkers site in their home country and be properly informed.

 

Author: Omer Muminović