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Reporters Without Borders: European press freedom under threat

Justice & Home Affairs

Reporters Without Borders: European press freedom under threat

Escalating armed conflict has made the journalistic profession even more dangerous. But increasingly repressive national laws have also limited press freedom.


Attacks, conflict and repressive security laws are putting journalists under increasing pressure, even in Europe, according to Reporters Without Borders. EurActiv Germany reports.

Lately, when the issue of press freedom rears its head, it is difficult not to immediately think of Turkey and its restriction of freedom of speech. The European Parliament and European Commission have both made their concerns known in a progress report released a few days ago.

In the rankings of countries that limit press freedom the most, Turkey has remained among the worst offenders under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, dropping two places from 149th in 2015 to 151st out of 180 countries. This is according to the World Press Freedom Index 2016, which Reporters Without Borders published today (20 April).

Turkish court takes journalists' espionage trial behind closed doors

A Turkish court took the trial of two prominent journalists charged with espionage behind closed doors today (25 March) and accepted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a complainant, in a case which has drawn international condemnation.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) wrote in its analysis that Turkey had launched a “massive crackdown on critical media” on account of its upped activity against Kurdish rebels. There have been more instances of gagging orders, news offices being put into state receivership and journalists being arrested. As a result, both Pakistan and Russia are ranked higher than Turkey this year, in 147th and 148th places, respectively.

RWB’s data shows that more journalists and independent media are under increasing pressure worldwide.  In all regions of the world, more limits on research and increased instances of assault, attacks and prison sentences were recorded against journalists.

RWB also demonstrated that this is as a result of increasingly autocratic tendencies in countries like Egypt, Russia and Turkey, where media-hostile, sometimes religious ideologies and repressive security laws have been put in place. Additionally, armed conflicts in Libya, Burundi and Yemen have also made the world less safe for the press to do their job. Closer to home, attempts in Poland and Hungary to control the media have contributed to a worsening environment for journalists.

“Many leaders react in a paranoid fashion to legitimate criticism by independent journalists,” said RWB spokesperson Michael Rediske. “When autocratic presidents and governments evade criticism, it promotes self-censorship and suffocates political discourse,” he added.

However, it is not just under repressive regimes where members of the media face difficulties. Even Germany has its problems and fell four places in the index to be placed 16th. Hostility, threats and violent attacks against journalists have increased in the Federal Republic.

RWB listed at least 39 attacks on journalists, mostly occuring during PEGIDA rallies and other right-wing demonstrations.

Germany will prosecute comedian who mocked Turkish president

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday (14 April) that Germany has accepted a request from Turkey to seek prosecution of a German comedian who read out a sexually crude poem about Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan on German television.

The rest of Europe also threatens to lose its pioneering role in fostering press freedom, according to the rankings. Proposed laws against terrorism and espionage, as well as mass digital surveillance, could endanger civil liberties and freedom of expression.

RWB also reported that journalistic independence faces the menace of major corportations that have amassed media empires and dictate their direction based on business interests.  In France, for example, much of the national, private media is controlled by a few companies, whose economic interests lie in different sectors. In Bulgaria as well, the media is largely dominated by political figures and oligarchs. Violence against journalists has also been recorded in the Eastern European country.

Some European countries rank worryingly low in the report, with Croatia in 63rd, Serbia in 59th and Hungary in 67th. Finland ranked 1st, having topped the rankings since 2014.

RWB's global rankings

RWB's global rankings