Poland plummets in press freedom ranking, Hungary remains bottom of CEE pile

By bne IntelliNews April 20, 2016

Poland slipped 29 place in Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index released on April 20, while Hungary - Warsaw's model of "illiberal democracy" - was also singled out for criticism.

Poland dropped to the 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.

Hungary - cited as a model by Law & Justice (PiS) since it took power in Poland in November - was the only other Central Eastern European (CEE) country singled out for criticism in the report. Budapest remains rooted firmly at the bottom of the rankings for CEE states as it slipped two spots to 67th due to “the government controlled ... Media Council tasked with ensuring respect for ‘public decency’ and ‘human dignity’ as well as defining them.”

Despite worries over growing concentration of ownership in the hands of local oligarchs in some of the other CEE states, press freedom around the rest of the region is viewed as far less problematic. That said, in terms of improvement or deterioration, 2016 is a mixed bag.

The new leader is Slovakia, which climbed two places to 12th globally. However, neighbour and former state partner the Czech Republic dropped eight positions to 21st. On top of the ownership issues, new legislation opening media companies up to easier prosecution for libel also likely contributed to the decline.

As it took the lead, the smallest Visegrad state swapped places with the smallest of the Baltics, as last year’s leader Estonia slipped four places to the 14th place. Neighbours Latvia and Lithuania enjoyed conflicting fortunes, the latter advancing four spots to 24th, the latter falling by a similar rate to 35th.

Finland topped the global index, followed by the Netherlands and Norway. Eritrea sits bottom.

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