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Media freedoms slipping in Eastern Europe

October 2, 2014

London - Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, hard-won media freedoms are on the decline in Eastern Europe, one of Europe’s leading experts says.
“What we have now is politics again trying to interfere, put pressure and control media in a very open and blunt way,” Dunja Mijatović, representative on freedom of the media for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), tells Index on Censorship magazine in an interview in the latest issue – a special on the future of journalism, published by academic publisher SAGE.

Mijatović says tells Index that the optimism of 1989 was justified, but no one did enough to protect the freedoms for which they had so long fought.

She calls on the EU (“the only ones with a big stick”) to step in, as the countries seek accession. “[The trend for threating media in the Balkans] needs to be reversed immediately. If not, we are going to be in big trouble,” she says.

Mijatović says education, including teaching media and internet literacy to children from a very young age, is what is needed to sort out the world’s attitude to free speech. “Governments would rather put funds into blocking and filtering, because they think that will solve all the problems in society,” she says.

Specific attacks on journalists in the Balkans are also highlighted in the latest Index issue, with case studies from Index on Censorship and Osservatoria Balcani e Caucaso (OBC)’s joint project to crowdsource media freedom violations across Europe.

The Index project tracks violence and intimidation against journalists at all levels of press and broadcast across the EU, including hyper-local papers, blogs and TV programmes, has highlighted a worrying trend in attitudes towards journalists. Research has revealed journalists are suffering a variety of threats, from Facebook warnings to beatings with baseball bats. Ilcho Cvetanoski, Index’s regional correspondent in the Balkans for the crowd-sourcing project, says an environment of impunity is contributing to a climate of fear and self-censorship amongst journalists:

“Keeping in mind the number of unresolved assaults from previous years, being a professional journalist in this region is not an easy job. The atmosphere of impunity is probably the biggest threat to media freedom.”

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“Mapping media threats: Rising attacks on journalists in the Balkans” is freely accessible in this issue of Index, and can be accessed here for a limited time.

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Index on Censorship is a quarterly magazine that was first published in 1972. Over the years Index magazine has published some of the greatest names in literature including Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Samuel Beckett and Kurt Vonnegut. It also has published some of the greatest campaigning writers of our age from Vaclav Havel to Aung San Suu Kyi.

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