The past year has brought a new set of opportunities and challenges to the media landscape around the world. Where are the global trends in press freedom headed? Which countries have experienced progress or setbacks? Has political change in the Middle East improved conditions for independent media?
To discuss these questions, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom invited the experts of Freedom House to present their latest findings of the Freedom of the Press report 2013 to the Brussels audience.
The Freedom of the Press report measures the environment journalists operate within as well as access to news and information. It contains the most comprehensive data set available on global media freedom from 1980 to the present.
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House Project Director for the Freedom of the Press presented global trends and gave an insight on the situation of the Freedom of the Press in the EU. According to the report, the media all over the world are encountering increasing pressure in a range of political settings. After improvement in 2011, the global average score of the freedom of the press declined again in 2012, bringing the figure to its lowest level since 2004. The regional average scores were also in decline: five-year lows were registered in the Americas, CEE/Eurasia and Western Europe. There were two exceptions to this trend: Asia-Pacific with a slow improvement of 0,47 points; and the MENA with a 3 point improvement in 2010-2011, and a slight decline again this year. Reasons for deterioration included:
- Setbacks in a range of political settings, including both repressive regimes and established democracies;
- Continued increasingly sophisticated repression of independent journalism and new media by influential authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia;
- Ongoing threats from non-state actors such as radical Islamists and organized crime groups;
- Uneven conditions for press freedom in the Middle East, with Tunisia and Libya largely retaining their gains from 2011 even as Egypt experienced significant backsliding and the region as a whole experienced a net decline for the year.
Regarding the press freedom in the European Union, in 2012, a total of 22 countries (81 percent) were rated Free, and 5 countries (Hungary, Greece, Lithuania. Latvia, Spain and Cyprus) (19 percent) were rated Partly Free. “The European economic crisis weakened press freedom in several countries, especially in Greece and Spain. The problems that have emerged in Southern Europe come on top of financial pressures that are plaguing press outlets in the Baltic states and elsewhere i
n Europe”, said Karlekar.
Ana Gomes, MEP S&D highlighted the importance of the freedom of the press for a democracy. Fair elections are impossible without free press. “Without it a democracy cannot breathe and it is impossible to denounce what is going wrong, especially in the area of human rights.” She further drew the attention to the fact that “unfree countries coincide with countries that are recipient of development aid”. The question is “How can we find ways to channel funding through people we want to empower, which are those who usually convey the truth instead of the ruling elite? It’s not about decreasing the funding of the EU but about channeling it in the right direction.” According to Etienne Claeye, Head of Sector for Democracy, DG DEVCO, European Commission, the EU is supporting human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers all over the world through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. However, after having a look at the bleak picture presented in the Freedom House
map on the freedom of the press “we don’t seem to be getting anywhere”. The European Commission is facing the daily dilemma of how to effectively fight poverty when there is no democracy.
Marietje Schaake, MEP ALDE who has issued a report on the freedom of press and media in the world to be voted in the European Parliament in June, emphasized the important role that the EU could and should play. “The EU has not done enough in order to safeguard the freedom of the press. It should adjust its policies to a rapidly changing environment. Further the EU must hold itself accountable to the same standards, otherwise we are running the risk of compromising our credibility.”
The panelists agreed that when it comes to freedom of the press, “The EU needs to get its own house in order rapidly”. All of them shared the concern particularly with regard to the situation of the freedom of the press and media in Hungary.
The support of the freedom of press and the freedom of expression is an important part of the work of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom abroad. The FNF has been supporting journalists, bloggers and media representatives in the MENA region and elsewhere for many years. For more information on the human rights’ work of the FNF please contact: alba.cako[at]fnst.org