Dangerous path for press freedom
The problems for press freedom continue despite pressure from international NGOs for improvements. Defamation is still criminalised and well-known politicians continue to subject media outlets to intimidatory lawsuits and often slanderous verbal attacks. These tendencies became even more accentuated when Janez Janša, the leader of the far-right SDS party, became prime minister in March 2020. After a smear campaign against freelance journalist (and RSF correspondent) Blaž Zgaga, who was investigating the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, other critical journalists were attacked on social media and in pro-government media funded by oligarchs who support Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, Janša’s ally. Following Orbán’s example, Janša’s government took tentative institutional steps to undermine the editorial and financial independence of the public TV broadcaster and the national press agency, eliminating funding for the latter in late 2020 and early 2021. SDS supporters created an alternative “national press agency” relaying the party’s propaganda. The privately-owned media meanwhile suffered economically from the decision to suspend the sale of newspapers in small shops and kiosks with the declared aim of combatting the coronavirus.
32 in 2020
22.64 in 2020