PARIS – The new Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index is out, and the countries of the Western Balkans are ranked as follows: Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the 58th place, Kosovo on the 70th, Albania on the 84th, North Macedonia is ranked 92nd, while Serbia is now 93rd, and Montenegro 105th out of 180 countries.
The ranking looks quite different to what it was in 2016. Back then, Serbia was the highest ranked country in the region (59th place), while North Macedonia was the last.
In four years, North Macedonia has gotten from 36,02 points to current 31,28 (the less points a country has, the more media freedom can be found there), while Serbia gained four points – from 27,6 to 31,6.
All countries of the Western Balkans are nevertheless in a “problematic media freedom” category, which is the middle of the spectrum from “good” to “very bad”.
The best ranked, as per usual, are Scandinavian countries, with Norway topping the list. Germany is also doing quite well, being ranked on 11th spot. Portugal, Ireland, Estonia and Benelux countries are the rest of EU countries in the top category.
Although somewhat lower, other biggest EU Members – Spain, France and Italy – are still in the top quarter of the world, alongside United Kingdom. The lowest ranked EU countries are Poland, Greece, Hungary and Bulgaria.
The bottom of the world list is still occupied by China, Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan.
What are the findings in the Western Balkans?
According to the Reporters Without Borders, after six years under the leadership of Aleksandar Vučić, first as Prime Minister and then the President, Serbia has become a country where it is often dangerous to be a journalist and where fake news is gaining in visibility and popularity at an alarming rate.
“While authorities have succeeding in prosecuting those responsible for the murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija in 1999, most other investigations into attacks on media personnel have stalled or shelved, such as investigations into the attacks against journalist Milan Jovanović, whose house was set on fire in December 2018 while he and his wife were asleep inside”, the summary reads.
When it comes to Montenegro, attack on journalist Olivera Lakić in 2018 and 2004 murder of the the case of Editor-in-chief of daily Dan Duško Jovanović remain unresolved. Furthermore, the transformation of RTCG into a public service has been completely halted after the appointment of new management close to the rolling circles. According to RWB, self-censorship continues to be a major challenge in Montenegro. Although defamation has been decriminalized since 2011, several lawsuits have been filed against independent journalists and media.
In Albania, Reporters Without Borders noted the adoption of an “anti-defamatory” package tightening the regulation of online media in December 2019, which is now being reviewed. The year 2019 was also marked by the abuse of a crisis situation – notably the earthquake – for the sake of curbing press freedom, the summary finds.
The media in Kosovo, Reporters Without Borders find, remains divided along ethnic lines. The access to information is often limited to one ethnic or political group, with the majority of media reporting predominantly on issues concerning their own nationality. Some of the shared concerns are physical and verbal attacks on journalists, cyber-attacks on online media as well as the lack of transparency of media ownership. Many media in Kosovo are not financially stable, which makes them susceptible to political influence.
The ethnic divisions are also visible in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where polarised political climate, marked by constant verbal attacks and nationalist rhetoric, has created a hostile environment for press freedom, RWB write. They point out that, while investigative journalists have brought several significant scandals to light in recent months, the State Prosecution did little to tackle the problems.
In North Macedonia, two achievements are singled out: creation of the Register of Professional Online Media and the signing of the Charter on journalists’ working conditions and draft Fair Working Contract for journalists and media workers in digital media. The government has also cut the advertising in the media, although this remains a practice on the local level.
“Regrettably, senior government officials have an engrained tendency to threaten and insult journalists. The culture of impunity is well-entrenched and still an obstacle for journalist’s safety”, RWB finds.