Freedom of Speech: Crash Course Government and Politics #25
Estonia and Belarus as two poles of the situation with freedom of speech and press in the post-Soviet space – expert assessment
The pressure on the media and freedom of expression is increasing around the world, including in democracies. Can it be changed?
According to experts, the level of freedom of speech is declining around the world. In both authoritarian and democratic countries, there is an increase in threats to journalists and increased political pressure on the media and other democratic institutions.
According to Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom of the World study, only 13% of the population lives in countries where people have access to free media that do not feel political and economic pressure, and journalists can report independently. without fear for your life.
Norway leads the world in terms of freedom of speech, followed by other Scandinavian and Western European countries. At the same time, in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, especially in Hungary and Poland, things are not so good with the freedom of the press. Countries and regions with the lowest levels of freedom of speech include North Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia..
Among the countries of the post-Soviet space, Estonia holds the highest position in terms of freedom of speech. Among 199 countries included in the report, this country is ranked 13th in the ranking, which is higher than in many Western countries..
Thus, the United States is in 33rd place, France is 44th, Hungary is 84th, Georgia is 102nd, Ukraine is 111th, and Russia and Belarus share 174th position in the ranking..
Similar data are provided by other non-governmental organizations, for example, Reporters Without Borders. A new study on freedom of the press by Freedom House will be released in June this year, however, as experts say, the main trends remain the same as a year ago..
Correspondents of the Russian service “Voice of America” talked with experts, politicians and journalists about why the situation with freedom of speech in the world is deteriorating, how Estonia managed to become one of the first in the world in this matter, and whether negative trends can be reversed.
Estonia: success to be defended
Well-known journalist in Estonia Argo Ideon (Argo Ideon), who began his career during the country’s restoration of independence, notes that the roots of today’s freedom of speech go back to the 1980s, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced a “policy of glasnost.”.
“Then our state newspapers and television began to change, and the fact that journalists began to talk about things that were previously impossible – about Stalinist repressions and deportations – this was one of the first signs of changes in Estonian society,” Ideon notes.
However, the key role in Estonia’s success in defending freedom of expression was played by the fact that the country was democratic before its incorporation into the USSR. In addition, after the restoration of independence in 1991, Estonia became a parliamentary republic. The fact that the country began to rapidly develop a market economy, which contributed to the emergence of private media, also played a role..
“With the restoration of independence, Estonia became a parliamentary republic, while many other post-Soviet countries began to be ruled by presidents and took the form of ‘soft’ autocracy,” notes Ideon. – In the development of the Baltic countries, it turned out that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were free republics for 20 years before the Second World War. And we still have the memory of European democratic traditions “.
“I have never felt pressured to write articles about political events in Estonia,” adds Ideon. However, as the journalist notes, despite the fact that Estonia has achieved democracy and freedom of speech, “this freedom must be further strengthened.”.
The latter became especially relevant after the parliamentary elections in March this year, as a result of which representatives of the right-wing Conservative People’s Party increased their presence in parliament and became part of the government. Many journalists began to criticize right-wing politicians, who responded by calling for the “removal from the air” of critical members of the press for their “biased” attitude. As a result, some journalists were forced to resign..
A number of public and political figures, including Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, spoke out in support of the independence of the media and in defense of freedom of speech in the country. On April 29, the President appeared at the ceremony for the oath of allegiance of new ministers in a blouse with the words “Freedom of Speech”.
Belarus: “The situation is terrible – there is no freedom of speech”
Political and public figure from Belarus Andrey Sannikov, who in 2010 put forward his candidacy for the presidency of the country and was later arrested by the authorities on trumped-up charges of organizing riots, calls the situation with freedom of speech both in Belarus and in Russia extremely alarming.
“The situation with freedom of speech in Belarus is bad and continues to deteriorate,” Sannikov said. – There is pressure on the press, which is becoming more and more obedient. The situation is terrible – there is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom of the press ”.
Sannikov recalls the recent beating in Belarus of journalists from the Belsat TV channel, which provides an alternative point of view to government rhetoric and often criticizes the country’s President Alexander Lukashenko. The opposition politician also cites as an example the blocking of the Internet news portal Charter’97, of which he co-founded, on the territory of Belarus, as well as other attempts of the Belarusian authorities to impose restrictions on freedom of speech on the Internet. In this regard, says Sannikov, Belarus largely takes an example from Russia, where “today they are already being imprisoned for reposts” in social networks..
“This is an indicator that, on the one hand, nothing good can be expected from these regimes. But on the other hand, it says that the “word” is still alive, freedom of speech is alive and it scares such rulers very much, ”Sannikov notes, adding that“ they (the authorities) go beyond all boundaries in persecuting people who are spreading free information, while spreading dirty disinformation themselves “.
Andrei Sannikov, who came second after Alexander Lukashenko during the 2010 presidential elections in Belarus, was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by the international non-governmental organization Amnesty International. The organization condemned not only the arrest, but also the torture that the public figure underwent during his time in prison. He was released in 2012 and was soon granted political asylum in the UK..
“Free journalism in Belarus and Russia today is a serious civil act,” says Andrei Sannikov. “I take off my hat to those independent journalists who continue to work in such wild conditions, literally risking their lives.”.
Freedom House: the deterioration of the state of freedom of speech – a global trend
Zhelique Chucky (Zselyke Csaky), Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the non-governmental organization Freedom House, notes not only the deterioration of the situation in the field of freedom of speech around the world, but also that this process has also affected democracies.
“In previous years, we have mainly seen a deterioration, for example, in the Eurasian region, where many countries are ruled by authoritarian regimes … But the significant decline in freedom of speech among free, democracies is a new phenomenon,” says Chucky..
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The expert is especially concerned about the increase in the number of murders of journalists, including in Europe..
“In 2017, Maltese journalist Daphne Galicia was killed, last year – Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, recently Irish journalist Lira McKee was killed. This is a completely new and unprecedented phenomenon in Europe, ”says Chucky..
One of the reasons for the narrowing of the space for freedom of speech, as the expert notes, was the increased political pressure and financial difficulties that most of the media face..
“It is very important to create a business environment and find a sustainable business model for the media,” the expert notes. – Otherwise, some politicians may continue to influence economically challenged media and other democratic institutions. This is happening in Hungary now. “.
Now many Hungarian politicians, especially from right-wing and populist parties, express contempt for the media and sharply criticize journalists, which also undermines people’s confidence in the press, the expert notes..
“Over the past five years, we have generally observed a general decline in confidence in most of the institutions of liberal democracy, including the press. We need to rebuild that trust, “Chuckie says, adding that until people’s thinking changes, until they are ready to support quality journalism,” the freedom of speech situation will worsen. “.
Voice of America journalist. Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics
Reporter for the Russian Voice of America Service in Moscow. Collaborates with Voice of America since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and host of programs for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty. Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.
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