The Czech Republic has slid further down the press freedom index published
by the non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders.
On a list on 180 countries, the Czech Republic now ranks 40th on the ladder, down from 34th the previous year.
In the press freedom index for 2014 the country ranked 12th in the world.
The US has also seen a marked slide and now ranks 48th, while press freedom is thriving in Norway, Finland, Sweden and The Netherlands.
Bottom of the ladder are North Korea and Eritrea.
The Czech Republic has a new media freedom watchdog. A number of leading journalists this week established a Czech branch of the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists set up to protect press freedom and support independent journalism wherever it is under threat.
World Press Freedom Day, marked on May 3rd, is perceived as a change to evaluate press freedom around the world and to defend the media from attacks on their independence. In the Czech Republic it serves as a reminder that all is not well in this field – the country slipped 11 places on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index this year. I spoke to Adam Černý, chairman of the Czech Syndicate of Journalists about what’s hurting press freedom in the country.
The Czech Republic has dropped dramatically down the index of press freedom
put together by the international organisation Reporters Without Frontiers.
The Czech Republic dropped 11 places in the ranking of 180 countries to 34th. Neighbour Slovakia dropped 10 places to 27th place.
The campaigning group highlighted the concentration of media in the Czech Republic saying that it had reached a critical point. It added that oligarchs has bought into media to boost their power base in the country.
It also focused on president Miloš Zeman’s repeated attacks on the press.
The European Parliament debated the risks of political abuse of the Czech media on Thursday. The plenary debate was held in reaction to a leaked audio recording, in which the leader of the coalition ANO party, former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, spoke to a journalist about media coverage that would damage his political rivals. Most MEPs noted that while there did not appear to be any fundamental threat to press freedom in the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis’ potential victory in the elections could create a serious problem. MEP Jan Zahradil of the Civic Democratic Party said the problem concerned a single politician and the answer would be to beat him in the elections. There was no formal conclusion to the debate.
The European Commission and European Parliament are examining complaints put forth by Czech MEPs and free press advocates that ANO leader Andrej Babiš’s influence over certain media outlets pose a threat to Czech democracy. Also under the microscope are recent comments made, supposedly in jest, by President Miloš Zeman to Vladimir Putin about the need to liquidate journalists.
During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in China, Czech President Miloš Zeman took a characteristic swipe at the media. Caught on mic just ahead of a joint press briefing with Mr. Putin, Mr. Zeman noted that there were too many journalists present and that they should be “liquidated”. While the joke raised a polite smile from Mr. Putin, it triggered a volley of negative reactions in the Czech Republic where media freedom and efforts to influence the free press are now very much in the spotlight.
Journalism, at least what passes for independent or objective journalism, is not enjoying the best of times worldwide. And Central Europe is one place where freedoms gained and consolidated over the past 25 years look like they are being eroded. That trend was this week highlighted by journalists in Prague as they pledged to cooperate in trying to defend media freedom across the region.
The Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship was founded in 2011 by the Czech Foreign Ministry, Radio Free Europe and Vize 97 -the Dagmar and Vaclav Havel Foundation, with the aim of advancing and promoting media freedom in the post-communist world. Fellows are selected from the RFE’s broadcast region where media freedom is stifled and independent journalists often work at risk. The selected journalists spend several months at RFE where they receive on-the-job training from seasoned professionals.