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Press Freedom in Western Balkans: Thunderous Silence

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The countries of Western Balkans are all ranked in the group of “partially free” countries in the latest Freedom of the Press 2014 report, published by Freedom House. The best ranked, with a score of 10 out of possible 100 (the higher the score, the lesser the press freedom in a country) are Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. At the bottom of the list are Belarus (score of 93), Eritrea (94), Uzbekistan (95), Turkmenistan (95) and North Korea (97).
 
In the Western Balkans, Serbia is best ranked in 74th place (score of 37), followed by Montenegro in 78th (39), Croatia in 83rd (40), Kosovo and Albania share the 98th place (score of 49 each), and lowest ranked are Bosnia and Herzegovina in 103rd place (50) and Macedonia in 122nd place (57) which continues the long decline in all similar rankings of press freedoms in the world.
 
Montenegro is the only country in the region that was mentioned individually in the report, due to the registered decline of its score from 36 to 39, as a result of hostile official rhetoric against the press and impunity for attacks, which included bombs targeting journalists and news outlets.
 
“Prime Minister Milo Đukanović stepped up efforts to steer funds away from outlets that are critical of his government, particularly Vijesti", states the Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press Report.
 
The Freedom of the Press 2014 notes global decline in press freedoms that reached the lowest leves in the last decade. The decline was driven in part by major regression in several Middle Eastern states; marked setbacks in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa; and deterioration in the relatively open media environment of the United States.

The share of the world’s population with media rated “Free” remains at just 14 percent, or only one in seven people. Far larger shares live in “Not Free” (44 percent) or “Partly Free” (42 percent) media environments.

“We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments’ efforts to control the message and punish the messenger. In every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters, blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists”, said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report.
 
In addition to attacks on the messenger, the main negative trends noted in the Freedom of the Press 2014 reports are attempts to establish control over the new media (online social networks, microblogS, mobile phones); control of contents through control of ownership of media; and targeted attacks on foreign media and journalists reporting from individual countries.
 
The full Freedom of the Press 2014 report, traditionally released in the week before May 3 – the World Press Freedom Day, is available on the website of Freedom House.

SSNM participated in the May Day protest walk in Skopje (Photo Dejan Georgievski)SSNM participated in the May Day protest walk in Skopje (Photo Dejan Georgievski)

The journalists in the region marked the Press Freedom Day, above all, through the traditional symbolic action „Five minutes of thunderous silence“. Journalists’ associations and trade unions from Zagreb, Belgrade and Podgorica invited the journalists to stop their work for five minutes, between 11:55 and 12:00 hours on May 3, as a warning about the deterioration status of journalists and media, which directly threaten the freedom of media and the right of the public to quality information.

The response differed from one country to the other. In Croatia, the statement by the Trade Union of Journalists was read aloud in the newsrooms, and some media read it on air. In Serbia, on the other hand, only B92 Radio and Television of the major national media stopped its programmes for five minutes.

In Macedonia, three organizations – the Independent Trade Union of Journalists of Macedonia (SSNM), the Media Development Centre (MDC) and the Macedonian Institute for the Media (MIM), in a statement for the media, warned about the grave current situation of Macedonian media. Two days earlier, on International Labour Day, May 1, MDC, SSNM and MIM joined the May 1st protests in Skopje.

“It is difficult to talk about freedom of media in a country in which censorship and self-censorship, where hate-speech is not only not sanctioned, but stimulated; where political and economic centres of power dictate editorial policies; without transparency of media ownershiops; where the ruling political elite is non-selectively protected from any criticism”, states SSNM in its statement.

The BH Journalists association and the Foundation Friedrich Ebert presented, on Press Freedom Day, the findings of the public opinion survey that aimed to determine the citizens’ perceptions about media freedoms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the quality of journalism and the trust that the citizens have in BiH Media. The survey “Journalism, Public Opinion and Media Freedoms in BiH” showed that the citizens continue to have greatest confidence in the media.

“More than 80 percent of the polled citizens trust the media the most, followed by the religious communities and the NGO sector”, said Borka Rudić, Secretary General of BH Journalists Association, adding that respondents reported the lowest levesl of trust (22 percent) in the politicians.

To mark the World Press Freedom Day, the KOSOVO 2.0 magazine invited its readers to write blogs for its online edition on the topic “Kosovo Needs a Free Press Because…”. The blog articles are available for reading on the website of KOSOVO 2.0.
 
The World Press Freedom Day is marked since 1993 as an opportunity to raise awareness about the meaning of press freedom and remind the governments of their obligation to respect and uphold the freedom of expression. The Press Freedom Day marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

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