In this year’s survey, the average ranking of the six former Soviet bloc countries tumbled 27 places from 2013, about the same as Mauritius, Ghana and Uruguay.
“We’re not seeing official censorship returning, but there’s a serious decline in professionalism,” noted Freedom House analyst Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska, who said the trend could compromise journalistic investigations of the region’s endemic corruption.
Hungary (No. 71), Bulgaria (78) and Romania (84) all have what Freedom House calls “partly free” media environments due to government interference, powerful owners and attacks on journalists. In western Europe, Italy and Greece are also considered to have a partly free press.
Bloomberg emphasized on eastern Europe and its issues regarding tycoons who control the media, such as in the case of the Czech Republic as well as for the “highly partisan” journalism in the case of Poland.
Eastern Europe’s “new media proprietors are usually the richest people in the country,” said Vaclav Stetka, a researcher at Prague’s Charles University. “We need to be concerned about the real reasons they invested.”
Andrej Babis, a billionaire who has become the Czech Republic’s top media mogul, made his fortune with fertilizer and pesticide producer Agrofert a.s., the country’s fourth-largest company. In April, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Babis has used his media to influence government decisions on health-care funding and the expansion of a state-owned mine.
Poland, which fell 23 places to 49th in the Freedom House ranking, was singled out in the press freedom survey over a 2012 report by “Rzeczpospolita” that said TNT was found in the wreckage of the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski — an assertion denied by investigators.
Freedom House cited the case as an example of “highly partisan” journalism in Poland. Grzegorz Hajdarowicz, the wealthy investor who bought “Rzeczpospolita” from Mecom and the Polish Treasury Ministry, fired several journalists including the editor-in-chief. The European Federation of Journalists criticized the dismissals as a violation of media workers’ rights.
Hajdarowicz said in an interview that he fired the journalists because they couldn’t back the story. “It was absolutely ridiculous and it demolished the credibility of the daily,” he said. “Of course, if it’s true, we will publish, but it was fake information served by some secret group,” Bloomberg wrote.