RSF Index 2018: Governments create a hostile climate for journalists in the Western Balkans

Media, Newspapers; Photo: Pixabay

PARIS – While some countries of the Western Balkans have made a certain progress on the world media freedom list, several countries of the region made notable and progressive decline, it is written in the latest Reporters Without Borders report – RSF Index 2018.

In the report on media freedom in Albania for 2018, Albania has progressed on the list for one place and from 76th came to the 75th place in comparison with the previous report. This report published in March 2018 found many problems with Albania’s media situation.

„Regulatory standards are manipulated in the government’s interests and ownership of the broadcast media is concentrated in the hands of a few big businessmen.“

There is a situation in which 80% of journalists have no confidence in their professional future and safety.

„Those who continue to work as journalists are exposed to a climate of insults, some of them coming from Prime Minister Edi Rama, who has called journalists “trash,” “poison,” and “public enemies” – it is stated by the RSF.

When it comes to the media freedom in Macedonia, the situation is not so bright. This Balkans country in the report by Reporters Without Borders had a huge problem with systematic attacks on press freedom in the decade of rule by Nikola Gruevski and his VMRO party. Gruevski and his party lost the June 2017 elections.

„As prime minister, Gruevski established a level of control over the media that was without parallel in the Balkans, and many leading opposition media had to stop operating“ – it is said in the report. A slight reduction in government control of the media after the fall of Gruevski regime is present, but it is still too soon to be sure that the media freedom in Macedonia will be instantly better.

„There has been no significant change in the economic situation of Macedonia’s journalists, who are usually poorly paid and have little job security“-notes the RSF. Macedonia is currently on the 109th place on this list with a slight improvement with climbing two places up.

Media freedom in Montenegro has improved with 3 places compared to the latest report. Montenegro is on the 103th in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. „The authorities have stepped up pressure on the public broadcaster RTCG to change its independent editorial policies, and have placed leading supporters of the ruling DPS party in key positions at RTCG.“

In addition to this, the issue of threats to journalists by the top government remains. Even though defamation has been decriminalized since 2011, lawsuits against independent journalists and media are still common in Montenegro. Some progress on media freedom is achieved but a number of problematic issues when it comes to the safety and independence of journalists remains.

Bosnia and Herzegovina in the latest report is on the 62nd place. The cultural and political climate with constant verbal attacks and often very nationalist rhetoric and hate speech make the climate not so favourable for press freedom.

„Journalists are attacked for their ethnic origins as well as what they write.“ Also, the employment conditions for journalists are not securely because they are mostly hired on short contracts and are paid little.

The situation is no different in Kosovo. According to the report, Kosovo is on 78th place. Some of the main problems are related to freedom and abilities of the journalists to make their stories visible to the public.

„Journalists who criticize the Kosovar authorities are often accused of being “traitors” or “Serbian sympathizers.” In September 2017, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj described journalists as “illiterate” and advised them to “go back to school,” notes the RSF.

Two leading investigative journalists were physically attacked after criticizing members of the government. „Kosovo’s ethnic divisions are particularly visible in the media, where members of the ethnic Albanian majority are rarely seen working side by side in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill with members of the Serbian minority.“ A new government has more will to talk with journalists and the media than the previous one. Archived progress will depend on the power of the government and it intends to make more free environment for the work of journalist and media in the whole.

Compared to the previous year, in the report of the Reporters without Borders about media freedom in the countries, Serbia fell on the list for 10 places. It is currently in the 76th position in the world, and it should not be forgotten that this fall in the list is steady, given that in the previous report, Serbia also had a fall compared to the year before.

It is said that after the election of Aleksandar Vučić as president, Serbia has become a country in which it is not safe for journalists. Numerous attacks on journalists remained unresolved and unpunished. In addition to this aggressive campaign by pro-government media against investigative journalists, the situation with regard to media freedom is unsatisfactory. At the moment, harmonization with the European Union standards in the field of free journalism does not show good progress, the report says.

Journalists dealing with topics like crime and corruption remain deprived of a wider range of their stories since they are published mainly through online media with limited coverage. What further worries is the collusion of politicians and the media as well as the lack of pluralism in the print and electronic media – said by the RSF in this report.

Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries, including the level of pluralism, media independence, the environment and self-censorship, the legal framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. It does not evaluate government policy.