Some European countries lead the world in respect for media freedom, yet the situation across the EU is growing increasingly heterogeneous, according to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), to be released on Tuesday (20 April).
The annual index, which evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories, this year shows that journalism is “totally blocked or seriously impeded” in 73 countries worldwide and “constrained” in 59 others – together representing 73% of those evaluated.
RSF catagorises an individual country’s record on press freedom using a colour scheme, ranging from good (white) and fairly good (yellow) to problematic (orange), bad (red) and very bad (black).
The World Press Freedom map has not had so few countries coloured white – indicating a good situation for journalism – since the current evaluation method was adopted in 2013.
This year, only 12, or 7%, of the index’s 180 countries were found to offer a favourable environment for journalism, down from 13, or 8%, last year.
The country stripped of its “good” classification is Germany, which slipped down two places in the ranking to 13th. RSF said the change was due to dozens of German journalists being attacked by extremists and conspiracy theory believers during protests against pandemic restrictions.
The 2021 index demonstrates the success of these Nordic nations’ approach towards upholding press freedom.
Norway is ranked first in the index for the fifth year running, even though its media have complained of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic.
Finland maintained its position in second place while Sweden moved up one place to recover its third place ranking, which it yielded to Denmark last year.
The EU countries rank as follows, from Finland to Bulgaria:
Finland 2, Sweden 3, Denmark 4, Netherlands 6, Portugal 9, Belgium 11, Ireland 12, Germany 13, Estonia 15, Austria 17, Luxembourg 20, Latvia 22, Cyprus 26, Lithuania 28, Spain 29, France 34, Slovakia 35, Slovenia 36, Czech Republic 40, Italy 41, Romania 48, Croatia 56, Poland 64, Greece 70, Malta 81, Hungary 92, Bulgaria 112.
Compared to the 2020 ranking, Greece, where recently a prominent journalist was killed, has slipped five places in the ranks, Hungary three, Poland and Slovakia by two places and Romania and Bulgaria one place. Croatia has risen three places up the ranks.
Bulgaria ranks at 111, the worst in the EU and the Western Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked 58, Kosovo 78, Albania 83, North Macedonia 90, Serbia 93 and Montenegro 104.
The EU’s black sheep
RSF, which has previously slammed Bulgaria as the EU’s “black sheep” in terms of press freedom, says that the few outspoken journalists are constantly subjected not only to smear campaigns and harassment by the state, but also to intimidation and violence.
“The situation of the media [in Bulgaria] is very worrying because no one is interested in investigating or condemning violence against journalists”, the report states.
However, the country is undergoing changes. The protest parties which emerged victorious from recent elections have pledged to make radical changes and uphold the rule of law and press freedom in the country.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]