вторник, 24 март 2015 г.

Press Freedom on the Balkans



Катарина Тадич, политоложка от Сърбия (а и моя съквартирантка), за свободата на медиите на Балканите и евроинтеграцията в списанието Kosovo 2.0.


According to the latest annual evaluation by Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organization with the mission of defending the right to receive and distribute information worldwide, media freedom suffered a drastic decline over the last year. The cause for this is partially because the media was largely suppressed in conflict territories such as Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Palestine. However for us, the most significant and relevant trend is the decline in press freedom throughout the Western Balkan countries. After twenty years of democratic transition and fifteen years of involvement in the EU integration process, these states are still struggling to meet basic criteria of the democracies they modeled themselves after.

Compared with the last year, Serbia has dropped from 54th place to 67th in press freedom rankings. Montenegro ranks 114th out of 180 for two years in a row, and Bosnia has also held fast at 66th. Kosovo’s results have fallen seven places compared with the previous report, now occupying the 87th position. According to Reporters Without Borders, “the European Union-Balkans region is in the lead by far, but nonetheless recorded the biggest fall between the 2014 and 2015 editions.”

For the countries in this region, or at least for their civil society organizations and ordinary citizens, the European Union has usually been perceived as a  driving motivator in conducting internal reforms. The reasoning is very simple — if the country keeps improving its democratic performance, it will move step by step toward the final goal: membership in the EU. However, if we compare the data regarding media freedom with the country’s progress in the integration process, the results are rather surprising.

Namely, although Montenegro ranks at 114th (having only Macedonia behind it), the country is still a front-runner in the EU integration process. It has already opened two negotiation chapters and is generally perceived as the next member state. The fact that the country has not improved a disturbingly low level of press freedom does not stop EU officials from praising Montenegro as a model for other states in the region. Serbia, after many years of stagnation, has similarly progressed over the past two years toward the European path — gaining candidate status and receiving the green light from the European Commission for opening the accession talks. However, since the focus has been on the negotiations talks with Kosovo, deterioration of media freedom in the country has still not been raised as an obstacle for further integration.

On the other hand, the trend among actual member states is also not very encouraging. Hungary, being only one place before Serbia, is continually declining from previous years, while Bulgaria has dropped from 100th to 106th place. Croatia is the only country in the region that has improved freedom of the press compared with the last Reporters Without Borders report. However, it is noteworthy that if we compare the years which countries entered the EU, Croatia in 2013 had a lower level of media freedom than Bulgaria did in 2007.

One can conclude that first, conditional politics are not as powerful as one would expect or better yet — some conditions are more important than others. Second, it indicates an inability of the EU to develop mechanisms capable of effectively preventing or sanctioning the deterioration of one of its fundamental principles, such as freedom of expression, among its own member states. However, the most important and the most dangerous consequence is a message sent to the political leaderships of the countries in the region. Ironically, an example of “Montenegro as a model for other states in the region” can be interpreted as a permission for harassment, censorship and threatening of journalists as tolerable behaviour. And the reward will apparently be  progress on the EU path. Difficult times for journalists are yet to come.

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