Reporters Without Borders slams Hungary, sees weakening EU

EU

The annual World Press Freedom Index as published by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) was released this week, with the latest round of whistleblowing certain to have Hungary’s international reputation taking a hit in 2013. Within the listing of 180 countries, media freedom in Hungary was judged to be just the 64th “best” – This in itself an eight-spot drop from last year’s 56th place showing.

While RWB was generally full of praise for the media freedom generally granted in European Union countries (more on this below), the NGO notes Hungary in addition to some Baltic states as home to “regrettable developments” in mass-media censure the past year. 

RWB lumps Hungary with Greece as prime examples of the increasing inefficacy of the European Union in improving freedom of information, as EU member states “becoming more dispersed in the index, a development accelerated by the effects of the economic crisis and outbreaks of populism” in such nations.

“In Hungary,” assesses the report in part, “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government gives the impression of having abandoned EU values in its zeal for draconian reforms. As a direct result of the European model’s erosion, the EU is finding it harder to get membership candidates to improve their position in the index. Membership negotiations are no longer necessarily accompanied by efforts to increase respect for civil liberties. Macedonia [in 123rd place], for example, has never been so low in the index.”

Freedom of information is a particular bugaboo in Hungary in RWB’s estimation, as “The Orbán government used its two-thirds majority in parliament to get a highly restrictive media law adopted in 2011. It introduced fines for the creators of content that is not ‘balanced’ – a concept deliberately left vague – and established a dangerous media regulatory authority with statutory links to Fidesz, the conservative ruling party. This ‘Media Council’ guaranteed just one thing: Political interference in news and information content.”

RWB further specifically criticized the media atmosphere in Hungary as playing host to “witch hunts” against independent news sources, including the shutting down of Klubrádió in 2012 and the subsequent (not to mention unnecessary) “relicensing” procedure which followed until the broadcaster’s reinstatement to public airwaves in early ‘13.

Meanwhile, some of Hungary’s neighbors fared rather better in RWB’s eyes: The Czech Republic rose three places on the list to rise to an impressive 13th place overall on the survey, while Austria and Germany sandwich the Czechs at nos. 12 and 14, respectively. Poland and Slovakia each climbed three spots to no. 19 and 20, respectively. Romania remains ranked as tops in the Balkans, though falling from 42nd in the standings to 45th. Serbia was 54th on the list and Croatia placed 65th.

Finland, the Netherlands, and Norway are unchanged as the top three nations surveyed, with Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea at the bottom of the table; in these three countries “freedom of information is non-existent,” noted the report’s authors, and “these countries continue to be news and information black holes and living hells for the journalists who inhabit them.”

The most precipitous and perhaps most telling drop among advanced economies was taken by the US, which tumbled 13 places to the no. 46 spot in the survey.

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