Most CEE/CIS countries fall in annual press freedoms ranking

By bne IntelliNews January 16, 2014

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The countries of Central and Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independent States had mixed results in 2013 in the annual press freedom ranking from Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which increasingly reflects the attention governments are paying to controlling their public image.

The plucky little Baltic states continue to rule as the most liberal countries in the former Soviet Union with Estonia home to the freest press in the region, ranked at 11th place in the world, just behind the Scandinavian countries that also surround the Baltic Sea. The Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia also are due honourable mentions ranking 16, 22 and 23 respectively - all ahead of both the UK and the US (29, 32).

However, the region in general continues to show some of the worst levels of press freedoms in the world. According to the RWB regional ranking (that weights freedoms in accordance to population), CEE/CIS press freedoms are the second worst in the world with a score of 45.3 out of 100, where 0 is total respect for the media. This is worse than Africa (with a score of 42.2) and only just head of the Middle East and North Africa (48.5).

The most worrying result was probably Turkey's continued fall in the rankings, which has been driven by the government's reaction to the political turmoil that wracked the country last year. Turkey fell from 148 to 154 out of a total of 179 countries. Currently Turkey leads the world in terms of the number of journalists in jail, closely followed by China.

The Republic of Macedonia's press freedoms fell the furthest of all the countries in bne's region, plummeting 22 places to 116. Hungary also tumbled by 16 to 56 as the Prime Minister Viktor Oban's illiberal regime continues to tighten its grip over many aspects of the country. Politics and protest was also behind Ukraine's 10-place drop down the list to 126, along with Bosnia-Herzegovina which also dropped 10 places to 58.

Unsurprisingly, the very bottom of the list is packed with the countries from Central Asia, with Turkmenistan holding on to its title of "worst of the worst" for another year, ranked third from bottom in the world at 177. On the flip side the most improved countries were Serbia (up 17 places to 63), Latvia (up 11 places to 39) and Belarus (also up 11 places to 157), but this last result has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

"Azerbaijan (156th, +6) and Belarus (157th, +11) both fell last year after using violence to suppress opposition demonstrations and this year they just moved back towards their appalling former positions," RWB said in its report.

"The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted," RWB secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

The BRIC countries also faired poorly, with none of the leaders of the emerging world ranking in the top 100.

Indeed, Russia has just been subjected to a media scandal after veteran US reporter David Satter was refused a new visa on January 14. The press corps raised a hue and cry, accusing the FSB intelligence service of throwing out a critical voice. But it later transpired Satter was probably just being punished for overstaying his previous visa. Russia's press freedoms remain restricted and the country fell six places to 149 this year.

"Russia has fallen again because, since Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency, repression has been stepped up in response to an unprecedented wave of opposition protests. The country also continues to be marked by the unacceptable failure to punish all those who have murdered or attacked journalists," RWB said.

Russia's result is only slightly worse ranking than its peer India, which fell nine places to 140. Brazil tumbled even more after five journalists were murdered last year, falling nine places to 108. But at least it is not China, which has by far the worst record of them all, ranked at 173 close to the very bottom of the table.

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