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Greece unseats Bulgaria as lowest-ranked SEE state in terms of media freedom - RSF

Greece unseats Bulgaria as lowest-ranked SEE state in terms of media freedom - RSF Media freedom

SOFIA (Bulgaria), May 3 (SeeNews) - Media freedom in Bulgaria improved significantly in the past year, by contrast to Greece which has replaced it at the bottom of media freedom scores amongst EU member states and non-EU countries in Southeast Europe (SEE), media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Tuesday.

Bulgaria rose 21 ranks to 91st position in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index, which ranks a total of 180 countries and introduced a new methodology this year.

Bulgaria's score improved to 59.12 points from 62.71 points a year earlier, according to data published by the non-profit, non-governmental organisation.

The improvement comes as a result of a change in government which has raised hopes for a loosening grip on the media by authorities even as control of media outlets is still mostly in the hands of oligarchs, making editorial independence subservient to private business interests, RSF explained.

RSF introduced five new indicators to reflect the complexity of press freedom. The new rankings take into account the political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and security in any given country.

In Bulgaria, "corruption, insufficient independence and low efficiency of the justice system make the state often toothless vis-a-vis press freedom violations. Independent media and investigative journalists are regularly victims of abusive procedures," the RSF said. Investigative reporters covering organised crime and corruption are regularly threatened, with physical assaults also a persistent problem.

The unsolved assassination of Greek crime reporter Giorgios Karaivaz was one of two incidences marking the return of journalist murders in the EU and, together with harsh local media laws against journalists, cost Greece 38 ranks, bringing it down to 108th position.

At 40th place, Moldova stood out with a leap forward of 49 positions and was the highest-ranking SEE country in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, as a result of a new parliamentary majority after the 2021 elections which suspended the Audiovisual Council. The latter had granted broadcasting licences to television networks tied to the Party of Socialists and spreading propaganda produced in Russia, entrenching media outlets' division into pro-Russian and pro-Western.

Croatia ranked 48th, up from 56th in 2021 even though media ownership is concentrated, with two companies, Styria and Hanza Media, controlling three-quarters of the market.

Slovenia fell 14 positions to 54th, with the RSF citing political pressure and hostility to journalists on the part of the government of prime minister Janez Jansa.

Romania also fell, to the 56th position in the ranking, followed by North Macedonia at 57th, for which this was a stark improvement compared to the previous edition of the index, with a "relatively calm" past year despite widespread mistrust of media.

Serbia, where the media landscape is very fragmented with over 2,500 media outlets, made a sharp progress upwards to the 79th from the 93rd spot. Despite advanced media legislation and freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution, Serbian journalists often work in a restrictive environment, which includes self-imposed censorship, RSF said.

Kosovo and Montenegro both improved their standings to rank 61st and 63rd, respectively, while Bosnia and Herzegovina lost 9 positions to 67th.

Albania retreated to the 103rd position, from 83rd a year earlier.

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