Europe a dangerous place for journalists, says watchdog

Press freedom seems to be losing its sheen in Europe while China under Xi Jinping , Russia under Vladimir Putin and the US under President Donald Trump continue to pose threats to journalists, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) say.

Although Europe still tops RSF index, its rating has plummeted this year because of murders of journalists in Malta and Slovakia and threat to them in the Czech Republic and Serbia. RSF expressed concern over the murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia. The watchdog blamed the killings on populist politics and authoritarian leaders and said the slide is likely to continue.

Leaders in central and eastern Europe are trying to intimidate journalists. Last year, Czech President Milos Zeman came to a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov bearing the words ‘for journalists’. Robert Fico, former prime minister of Slovakia, called journalists ‘idiotic hyenas’.

The situation in Poland and Hungary is equally bad. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed a pro-government magazine that published a list of 200 journalists whom he had accused of being “mercenaries” paid by the Hungary-born US billionaire George Soros.

Journalists live in fear in authoritarian countries like Turkey and Egypt. Turkey, which has jailed the highest number of journalists worldwide especially after the failed coup, is now among the 25 most repressive countries.

The watchdog accused US President Donald Trump, Russia and China of putting curbs on press freedom.

RSF expressed concern over censorship and surveillance of journalists in China under Xi Jinping who is now president for life.

Under Trump, the United States fell two spots in the RSF ranking.

Norway held its place at the top of the World Press Freedom Index for the second year in a row while North Korea remained last among the 180 countries listed.

The departure of authoritarian presidents from Gambia, Zimbabwe and Angola pushed them up in the media freedom ranking in Africa.  Gambia rose in the RSF rank by 22 spots to reach 122.