Greece replaces Bulgaria as the EU press freedom black sheep

File photo. Police officers cordon the area outside the home of Greek journalist Giorgos Karaivaz after he was murdered in Alimos, on the southern coast of Attica, Greece, 9 April 2021. Witnesses reported two men on a motorbike, possibly a scooter, outside his home, fired multiple shots at the victim with a handgun, inflicting fatal injuries. The culprits then took off in an unknown direction. [EPA-EFE/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU]

After many years of having Bulgaria as the worst-ranked EU country in terms of press freedom, the World Press Freedom index for 2022 painted a different picture on Tuesday (3 May): Bulgaria has improved while the worsening media situation in Greece sent that country to the bottom.

Bulgaria climbed 21 ranks in the latest edition of the annual report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and is no longer the EU black sheep.

Bulgaria ‘black sheep of the EU’: World Press Freedom Index

Bulgaria has the lowest standards of press freedom in Europe and is ranked 111th globally in terms of press freedom for a third consecutive year in the Reporters Without Borders annual edition of the World Press Freedom index, which called the country “the black sheep of the EU”.

In 2021 Bulgaria ranked 112th out of 180 countries surveyed, its worst ranking ever. This year, Bulgaria climbed to 91st place.

As RSF explained, the evolution is the result of a change of government, after 12 years of nearly uninterrupted rule of conservative Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, during which media freedom was in decline and certain outlets were used for exercising political influence.

Bulgaria went through a series of early elections in 2021 and has a new government, which has declared anti-corruption as its top priority.

However, many problems remain in the media sector.

“Corruption, insufficient independence and low efficiency of the justice system make the state often toothless vis-a-vis press freedom violations. Independent media and investigative journalists are regularly victims of abusive procedures, or SLAPPs”, the RSF report said about  Bulgaria, referring to the “Strategic lawsuits against public participation” intended to intimidate journalists and media.

Conversely, Greece fell from rank 70 in 2021 to 108, the worst ranking for an EU member. The ranking is even below that of any candidate country from the Western Balkans, where the worst-ranked is Albania (103rd).

According to RSF, press freedom in Greece suffered serious setbacks in 2021 and 2022, with journalists regularly prevented from covering issues from migration to COVID-19.

Furthermore, the assassination of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in April 2021 remains unsolved despite the government’s promise of a quick investigation. Karaivaz was gunned down outside his Athens home in broad daylight.

Public trust in media in Greece remains among Europe’s lowest as the sector is highly fragmented and mainly owned by a few individuals who are also active in other highly-regulated sectors.

Public media still lack independence and recent amendments to the criminal code “allow for the disproportionate restriction of press freedom on shaky legal grounds.”

This “goes against Greece’s international commitments and European legal standards, represents a serious threat to journalists’ right to publish information in the public interest, and increases the risk of self-censorship,” the RSF report said.

Female journalists regularly have to deal with sexism, while extreme left and right activists are prone to attacking media they consider “ideological enemies”.

The police were also heavily criticised for regularly resorting “to violence and arbitrary bans to hamper journalistic coverage of demonstrations and the refugee crisis”. The report also referred to the smear campaign against a Dutch journalist who had called out Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on migrant pushbacks.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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