Press freedom index marked by downgrades for Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria

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As the United Nations marks World Press Freedom Day, a watchdog organisation has published its annual report today (3 May) showing that three EU countries – Hungary, Greece and Bulgaria – saw a dramatic decline in press freedom.

According to Freedom House, which ranks 196 countries and territories across the world, Hungary fell 16 positions and now occupies the 56th rank.

The media freedom report says that the country’s “repressive legislation” impacts significantly on the way the journalistic profession is practiced.

Greece fell 14 positions and occupies the 84th rank. The report says that in this country journalists work in catastrophic social and professional conditions and are exposed to popular discontent. Media workers also face the risk of violent reprisals from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.

Bulgaria fell seven positions and now ranks 87th. The European Commission has in the past criticised the excessive media concentration in Bulgaria. The country is in the middle of an illegal eavesdropping scandal of unprecedented proportions, dubbed the ‘Bulgarian Watergate’. According to reports that started receiving confirmation, many journalists have been illegally wiretapped.

The EU country ranking the last is Romania, on 88th position. The country has, however, advanced compared to the previous year, when it occupied the 92nd position.

Among the 10 countries ranking first in terms of press freedom, five are EU members. Finland ranks first, followed by the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Denmark, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Iceland and Sweden.

Friday marks the 20th year of World Press Freedom Day.

‘When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits’

United Nations officials issued a call to action to ensure the safety of journalists in every country, echoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who declared: “When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits.”

“Too many media workers also suffer from intimidation, threats and violence. Too many experience arbitrary detention and torture, often without legal recourse. We must show resolve in the face of such insecurity and injustice.”

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said more than 600 journalists have been killed in the past decade, many while reporting in non-conflict situations. Impunity is also widespread as nine out of 10 cases of killings of journalists go unpunished.

Meanwhile, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) emphasised the importance of securing freedom of the press, as the country prepares for presidential elections in 2014.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Afghanistan is one of the top 10 countries where crimes against journalists go unpunished. Iraq, Somalia and the Philippines also top the list.

The United Nations notes that in Somalia, journalists not only risk death on a daily basis but also arbitrary arrests, as happened earlier this year when a reporter was accused of fabricating a rape story based on an interview which was never published.

In related activities, UNESCO is organising a series of events in San José, Costa Rica, over three days, focusing on securing freedom of expression in all media. The events include an award ceremony for the winner of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, which this year will go to Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu, who has written critical pieces on poverty and gender equality. She is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.

UNESCO is also organising a three-day festival in Rabat, Morocco, to mark the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. The festival includes conferences, training sessions for journalists, an art exhibit and a movie screening.

Abdou Diouf, Secretary General of the Francophonie made a statement on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, calling on governments members of this movement to guarantee the security of journalists in performing their duties.

“Press freedom is often breached in member countries of our organization, especially when breaks of constitutional order occur, and even more in the phases of transition to democracy”, he said.

Abdou Diouf recalled the provisions contained in the Bamako Declaration of November 2000 in which the Member States are committed to "ensure the effective respect for freedom of the press."

The UN General Assembly designated 3 May as World Press Freedom Day in 1993. This year’s theme, “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”, seeks to rally global action to protect the safety of all journalists worldwide and to break the vicious circle of impunity for crimes committed against them.

The European Union has long been hailed as one of the areas of the world with the greatest press freedom. However, NGOs and international organisations warn that this may be under threat as the media becomes increasingly concentrated in ever fewer hands and some governments engage in politically-motivated lawsuits and outright censorship. [more]

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