2015: Europe threatened by demons, its own and the world’s

The past year seems to have confirmed the trend seen in the 2015 Index – progressive erosion of the European model. Counter-espionage and counter-terrorist measures were misused. Laws were passed allowing mass surveillance. Conflicts of interest increased. Authorities tightened their grip on state media and sometimes privately-owned media as well. All in all, the continent that respects media freedom most seemed to be on a downhill course.

Poland (47th, down 29) fell spectacularly in the 2016 index as a result of the government’s declared aim of restoring foreign-owned Polish media to Polish ownership and a law, enacted in early 2016, allowing the government to hire and fire those who run Poland’s public radio and television. In Hungary (67th), the government controlled a Media Council tasked with ensuring respect for “public decency” and “human dignity” as well as defining them.

Media ownership by conglomerates with a wide range of business interests has long posed a threat to journalistic independence, but the threat is growing and is endangering the European model. This is the case in France (45th), where most of the private-sector national media are now owned by a handful of businessmen with interests in areas of the economy unrelated to the media. In Bulgaria (113th, down 7), which has the European Union’s lowest ranking, politicians and interest groups control most of the media. In Macedonia (118th), selective allocation of state advertising was used to control and gag the media.

In the United Kingdom (38th, down 4), the police used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to violate the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, while the number of police raids with the same objective increased in Italy (7th, down 4), a country where threats from the mafia are also frequent. Southeastern Europe was not spared. Physical violence was reported in Croatia (65th, down 5) and Serbia (59th), where journalists were taken hostage or were the targets of petrol bombs.

Some of the threats to journalists were directly linked to rising nationalism, such as the death threats in Sweden (8th, down 3) and the physical attacks during anti-Muslim demonstrations in Germany (16th, down 4). And finally, it was in Paris that the attack on Charlie Hebdo took place on 7 January 2015, an attack masterminded from Yemen. So, Europe was also the victim of the world’s demons.