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Hungary Slips to 71st Spot in RSF World Press Freedom Index, As Situation Worsens Worldwide

In the 2017 edition of their annual World Press Freedom Index, the group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières—RSF) has ranked Hungary as 71st of 180 countries worldwide in terms of freedom of the press.

This represents a further fall from last year, when it was in 67th place, and represents a continued downward trend for the Central-European state.

The biggest factor in Hungary’s drop in rankings this year was the controversial closure of the left-wing daily Népszabadság.

According to RSF’s website, “the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states,” that “ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists.”

The RSF itself is the world’s largest NGO that specializes in “the defense of media freedom,” which the group describes as “the basic human right to be informed and to inform others.” They closely monitor attacks on freedom of information and freedom of the press, and annual World Press Freedom Index is one of their most important publications. They also work to fight censorship and laws that restrict freedom of information, assist persecuted journalists and their families, and provide support for journalists traveling to war zones or other dangerous regions.

The World Press Freedom Index is compiled based on two sources: an 87-question online questionnaire sent to “media professionals, lawyers, and sociologists” around the world. It is translated into 20 languages. The questions asked generally relate to the following six categories: pluralism; media independence; environment and self-censorship; legislative framework; transparency; infrastructure; and abuses.

 In addition to this questionnaire (which you can read in its entirety here), the RSF has “a team of specialists, each assigned to a different geographical region,” who keep “a detailed tally of abuses and violence against journalists and media outlets.” These researchers are assisted by a network of correspondents located in 130 countries around the world.

Countries are scored from 0 to 100, with 0 being the best score and 100 the worst possible. In their world map, countries are color-coded according to these scores, where white is Good; yellow is fairly good; problematic is represented by orange; red is bad; and black, the worst category, is very bad.

press freedom map

There are 21 countries in the “very bad” category; these include Egypt, where the military regime of President Sisi grows increasingly authoritarian, as well as perennial offenders such as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China. Filling out the bottom of the list, as they have for the past twelve years, are Turkmenistan, Eritrea, and North Korea.

The countries that scored highest in this year’s press freedom ranking were the Scandinavian countries (which occupied the top five slots), with Costa Rica in a close 6th.

This year, the United States fell two places, from 41st to 43rd place, due to what the RSF described as “increasing attacks” on the First Amendment, which guarantees press freedom. In addition, the United Kingdom likewise dropped two spots, down to 40th place, after a year characterized by “a heavy-handed approach towards the press – often in the name of national security” that has harmed freedom of the press.

According to this year’s RSF report, Hungary, with a score of 29.01, press freedom in Hungary is currently at a ‘problematic’ level. Addressing the Hungarian situation specifically, the group wrote that

Viktor Orbán has steadily tightened his grip on the media since his re-election as Prime Minister in 2010. In October 2016, the Orbán regime celebrated its biggest score after the suspension of both the print and online editions of Hungary’s most influential daily newspaper, Népszabadság. Although the Austrian owner of Mediaworks, the publishing company of Népszabadság, claimed that the suspension was based uniquely on financial grounds, it became apparent a few weeks later that the closure of the leading left-liberal daily newspaper was politically motivated. In November 2016, Mediaworks, at the time the biggest publisher of regional daily newspapers dominating more than 50% of that market, was sold to a company with close ties to the ruling party Fidesz and controlled by one of the Prime Minister’s closest advisors.

With this acquisition, Fidesz gained control of a dozen of regional daily newspapers and other media outlets. The economic weekly Figyelő was taken over by a wealthy businesswoman and close counsellor of the Prime Minister. Since the takeover, the new owner appointed a government-friendly political analyst as an editor-in-chief and the cover page of the weekly magazine is exclusively reserved for government members and top Fidesz politicians. The rapacious appetite of the ruling party has no limits.

Overall, the past year has been a bad one for press freedom, as the number of countries with ‘good’ or ‘fairly good’ press freedom has fallen by 2.3%. The report’s authors point to the rise of “poisonous rhetoric and other political pressure,” including populist demonization of the media, well seen in the presidential campaign of current US President Donald Trump.

In addition, though RSF also pointed to legislation in countries such as Germany that makes it easier for the government to spy on journalists, as well as laws that target whistleblowers. The report further noted “a continuation in the trend for media ownership to become concentrated in ever fewer hands, which is exacerbating the media’s dependence on political and economic power holders.”

You can view the 2017 World Press Freedom Index in full here.

Via rsf.org, the Washington Post, the BBC, and the Guardian

Images via rsf.org