A report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has shown that press freedoms in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) has mostly deteriorated in the last 12 months, with the majority of the region’s nations experiencing a decline in their score on the NGO’s annual Press Freedom Index.
Europe as a whole disappointed, with the report stating that "all in all, the continent that respects media freedom most seemed to be on a downhill course.” Of the 31 CEE/CIS nations included in the index, only 11 saw their position in the table of 180 countries improve.
The biggest decrease in the region was suffered by Poland, which dropped to 47th place in terms of press freedom globally. The fall in the ranking was the third largest recorded this year, and was driven by recent government moves to push foreign owners out of the sector and assert strong control over state media organisations. Only long term abusers of press freedom Tajikistan and Brunei saw sharper declines.
“Poland fell spectacularly in the 2016 index as a result of the government’s declared aim of restoring foreign-owned Polish media to Polish ownership and a law, enacted in early 2016, allowing the government to hire and fire those who run Poland’s public radio and television,“ Reporters Without Borders said.
Eastern Europe provided a mixed set of results in the index. Of the three Baltic nations, Estonia and Lithuania each fell four places in the index, to 14th and 35th place, respectively, while Latvia rose by four places to 24th, as the bneChart shows.
Ukraine enjoyed the biggest improvement in rank in the CEE/CIS region, and the third-highest worldwide, climbing 22 places to 107th. RSF put this jump down to the post-Maidan decline in violence and "to some long-awaited reforms,” which included laws regarding the transparency of media ownership, the independence of public media and access to public information.
While Russia climbed four places to 148th, its overall score deteriorated. RSF blamed the failings in surrounding, Central Asian countries on Russia’s legitimising of poor press freedom, describing it as a “regional model”. Indeed, RSF’s assessment of Russia’s neighbours was damning. “Brandishing imaginary threats” is the “favourite pastime of the eternal despots” in Uzebkistan (166th), Kazakhstan (160th), Turkmenistan (178th), Azerbaijan (163rd) and Belarus (157th), the report said.
Tajikistan suffered the joint biggest drop in rank, falling 34 places to 150th place in the index. The report cited economic and security threats as fuelling the “tightening [of] the screw” by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s regime, who “used ‘counter-terrorism’ and grounds for gagging critics and consolidating his personal power”.
Turkey’s two-place fall to 151st out of 180 was attributed by RSF to "the turmoil resulting from the Syrian conflict and the resumption of fighting with the PKK Kurdish rebels,” and the resultant "authoritarianism and the paranoia displayed by the authorities”.