Reporters Without Borders: Journalists in the Western Balkans faced with political pressure

Illustration; Photo: Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons

According to the World Press Freedom Index 2017, journalists in the Western Balkans are faced with various political and economic pressures and are often targeted along with daily and weekly newspapers which are posing as some of the main critics of the governments. Although four out of six countries of the Western Balkans are EU candidate countries, media freedoms are far away from the European standards. With the recent trend of erosion of the rule of law in the region, media freedoms might take a significant setback.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published the 2017 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which is used as a tool for assessing the situation of the media freedoms throughout the world. World Press Freedom Index is being published each year since 2002, and it ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. The index is compiled by the responses of experts to a questionnaire formulated by RSF.

In comparison to the last year’s edition of the World Press Freedom Index, from the countries of the Western Balkans, only Serbia had a significant fall, while Montenegro remained in the same position. From these countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina has the highest index score and it is now on the 65th place, following by Serbia who is currently in 66th place from 180 countries included in the Index.

Albania

Albania is currently on the 76th place, advancing for 6 places in comparison to the previous year. RSF suggests that this EU candidate country needs better implementation of legislation which guarantees freedom of expression, adding that even with the freedom of information laws being adopted, journalists still have limited access to the state-held information.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

According to the World Press Freedom Index, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a leading country in the region, being on the 65th place. Although it is said that this country has the world’s most liberal media freedom laws, journalists are often faced with threats and political pressure. RSF also notices that the pro-government media continue to enjoy direct and indirect state subsidies.

Kosovo

Out of the countries of the Western Balkans, Kosovo has made the biggest progress, advancing by eight places. The biggest problems journalists are facing relate to political interference and financial pressures. Other problems include accusations of ‘treason’ and being ‘Serbian sympathisers’ of the journalists who criticise the authorities in Kosovo.

Macedonia

Although Macedonia has advanced for seven positions, it still has the lowest position compared to the other countries of the Western Balkans. Current political state of the country affected the media freedoms, and journalists are faced with political pressure from the ruling party. Also, there were many reports of threats and intimidation of journalists, of which only a few were processed.

Montenegro

Montenegro is the only country of the Western Balkans which has not changed its position, and it is at this time in 106th place. One of the biggest problems journalists are facing in Montenegro are violent verbal and physical attacks. As in the other countries, journalists are facing political and economic pressures. RFS noticed that several messaging applications (WhatsApp and Viber) were blocked on the day of the parliamentary elections last year.

Serbia

Serbia is the country with the biggest fall in 2017 and currently is in the 66th position, right after Bosnia and Herzegovina. RSF states that media freedom has declined “ever since Aleksandar Vučić, Slobodan Milošević’s former information minister, became Prime Minister in May 2014.” Strong financial and editorial pressure is present, and journalists who are criticising the government are being publicly attacked, alongside with the daily newspapers Danas and weekly Vreme.