Media freedom still patchy in Europe after communism

A man reads Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes with a front page focused on financial crisis 7 Oct, 2008 in Prague Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Czech Republic gets high marks for media freedom

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall the media landscape in Europe's former communist countries is uneven.

Some, such as Estonia and the Czech Republic, have overtaken some long-established Western democracies in the international press freedom rankings by France-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and US-based Freedom House.

But at the other end of the scale Hungary made impressive progress only to fall back dramatically in recent years. And some other post-communist countries are judged to be among the least free in the European Union.

Press freedom 'havens'

There has been some dramatic progress since 1989, after years of party propaganda, strict censorship and jamming of Western broadcasts.

Eight former communist countries joined the EU in 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 and Croatia in 2013.

Slovakia was joint first with seven other countries in 2004 and in the top four in 2007 in the RWB index - in the same league as northern European paragons of media freedom such as Finland and Norway.

In 2006, six post-communist countries were in the top 13, and RWB praised the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia as "havens of freedom of expression".

This year's RWB and Freedom House indexes rank Estonia and the Czech Republic above Britain, France and Italy.

Estonia is an example of a young democracy that has done particularly well, staying between the third and 11th positions in the RWB index over the last decade.

Freedom House says the country's media scene is "diverse" and, in general, "media operate without significant political interference".

Sharp fall

One of the 2006 media freedom champions, Hungary, has fallen from the 10th position to 64th in RWB's latest index.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hungarian PM Viktor Orban shelved a proposed internet tax after mass protests against the plan

A law passed in 2010 set up a new regulatory body with wide-ranging powers over broadcast media, print publications and the internet.

The latest Freedom House report notes "serious and persistent concerns that the extensive legislative and regulatory changes since 2010 have negatively affected media freedom."

The only EU members to fare worse than Hungary in RWB's 2014 index are Croatia (65), Bulgaria (100) and Greece (99).

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