Recent murders of reporters in Slovakia, Malta, and Bulgaria have shone a light on endemic problems that journalists in Eastern Europe have been facing for years. But do journalists need to get killed in order for the international community and fellow journalists to start talking about the struggles of independent media in Eastern Europe?
The decline of Hungarian media freedom is a good case in point. Prime Minister Viktor Orban hasn’t captured the media sector overnight. It took him years to gain control over the press, a key move in his effort to transform the country into an “illiberal democracy”. While Hungarian journalists have been raising the alarm for a while now, there were very few people outside of Hungary willing to hear them. Until it was too late.
Budapest is not alone in its efforts to silence the independent press. Journalists from Bulgaria, Serbia, and Poland have expressed fears about the deteriorating state of press freedom in the region. For example, Bulgaria has the worst media freedom in the European Union, according to the World Press Freedom Index, produced by Reporters Without Borders, where Bulgaria ranks 111th out of 180 countries. The lack of transparency of media ownership, business and political pressure as well as smear campaigns against independent and investigative journalists who dare to expose corruption are just some of the problems which have plagued the media landscape in Bulgaria for years.
The plight of media in the other Eastern European countries is not much different. Almost 30 years after the fall of communism, Eastern Europe is still struggling to build a strong and independent press. We would like to start a conversation about the assault on media freedom in this post-communist corner of Europe, a problem that is usually ignored until it’s too late, and look for potential solutions.