* Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. Ernest Hemingway
Media ownership consolidated in Hungary
Things are barely better in Hungary, which slipped 14 notches to 87th out of 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index.
- The rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has seen independent media squeezed and critical outlets shut down over the years. The ownership of Hungary’s media has continued to become increasingly concentrated in the hands of oligarchs allied with Orban, with the result that the media landscape has been transformed in recent years.
- The most important critical media outlets have had to close, while the editorial independence of others has been threatened by the presence of pro-government oligarchs on their boards, among their shareholders or within the financial institutions that fund them, according to the report.
- Reporters Without Borders cites the creation of the central media holding, a consortium of some 500 pro-government newspapers, cable channels, radio stations, and websites.
The government blocked any potential antitrust investigation into the single largest media transaction by declaring the establishment of the media holding as an issue of national strategic importance.
Orban’s efforts to control media paid off in the 2018 election. With the acquisition of all county newspapers, Fidesz managed to win the hearts and minds of rural voters by stoking fears from migration.
- In rural areas, the majority consume only government-funded media, mainly public television, which has become a mouthpiece of the government with the focus on spreading the government’s agenda on migration.
- Government propaganda depicts Hungary, a country with practically zero immigration, as the last fortress standing in the way of “invasion” by migrant herds an allusion to Ottoman times, while being attacked for resisting migration by the decadent liberal elites of the EU, an allusion to the Habsburg era. There is no hourly news coverage without news on migration.
State interference in the Western Balkans
Serbia, too, has become dangerous place for practicing journalism, which the watchdog links to the five-year rule of President Aleksandar Vucic. The country lost 14 positions to rank 90th in the latest report.
- “Within five years of President Aleksandar Vucic in effect governing the country, Serbia has become a place where practicing journalism is neither safe nor supported by the state,” RSF noted.
- It added that government officials have used increasingly inflammatory rhetoric targeting journalists. Moreover, the number of attacks on media is on the rise, including death threats.
- Many attacks against journalists have not been investigated, solved, or punished, and the “aggressive smear campaigns that pro-government media orchestrate against investigative reporters are in full swing”. This has contributed to the weekly mass protests in Belgrade and other cities that have persisted since December 2018.
Another Western Balkan state, Albania, fell seven positions to 82nd on the index. “Attacks on the media from both the government and organised crime reached an unprecedented level in 2018,” RSF concluded.
It was noted that Albanian journalists were subjected to insults, death threats and legal proceedings designed to intimidate and deter them from investigating corruption.
- Politicians, led by Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, branded journalists as “trash” and manufacturers of fake news.
- It was noted in the report that Rama proposed a law to reinforce state control over electronic media, which restricts access to information.
- The RSF said that the joint report published by RSF and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) in March 2018 found that regulatory standards in Albania are being manipulated in favour of the government’s interests. At the same time ownership of broadcast media is concentrated in the hands of a few big businessmen, which created a situation in which self-censorship is widespread.
According to that report 80% of Albanian journalists have no confidence in their professional future.
- Media freedom also continued deteriorating in Montenegro, which at 104th place is the worst ranked country in the Western Balkans.
- State authorities were accused of placing advertisements in pro-government media in order to support them and, as a result, independent media outlets have faced serious financial difficulties.
Moreover, journalists were harassed and threatened by those in power, RSF noted. At the same time, the authorities are also putting pressure on public broadcaster RTCG to change its independent editorial policy, RSF said.
It also pointed out that an investigation of shooting against Olivera Lakic, a local investigative journalist, produced no result until now like many other similar cases. Another invstigative journalist, Jovo Martinovic, was sentenced to eight months in jail in January 2019 for alleged drug trafficking. This has provoked many objections from several international organisations.
Improvements in North Macedonia
One of the few bright spots in the region was North Macedonia, which jumped 14 places to 95th. Reporters without Borders noted some progress in journalism safety in the country as the number of attacks on journalists in 2018 was just one-third compared with the previous year.
However it said that impunity is a well-entrenched problem with only two of the 59 attacks reported in recent years being investigated and solved.
Although the situation stabilised in 2018, the government led by the Social Democrats has been advised to amend the public broadcast media law, which was an electoral promise when they come to power in 2017.
According to Reporters without Borders, the programme of the state broadcaster MTV continues to serve the interests of the former ruling party, conservative VMRO-DPMNE.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: intellinews.com