Press freedom has improved in the Czech Republic according to this year’s Press Freedom Index, which now places the country 20th compared to the 40th spot it scored last year.
The Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In 2021, the organisation warned against dramatic deterioration in access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the end of the pandemic and the replacement of the former populist government, Czech media breathe a sigh of relief.
The index was published on World Press Freedom Day (3 May). The country’s score registered a more modest increase from 76.62 in 2020 to 80.54 in 2021 out of a possible 100.
“We will not restrict any media in their activities and we will not hinder any journalists in their work,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said in a statement, admitting that many journalists work in challenging economic conditions.
“The practices of restricting participation in press conferences, limiting access to information and selectively placing state advertising are fundamentally alien to me,” he added.
In recent years, journalists were often verbally attacked by former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who labelled several Czech media as “mafia”. Babiš is the beneficial owner of the Agrofert holding, an agrochemical company controlling MAFRA, one of the biggest media houses in the country.
While press freedom has improved, RSF warns of the challenges that still need to be tackled in the Czech media landscape.
“In the Czech Republic, freedom of the press is threatened by the high concentration of privately owned media and the pressure exerted on public broadcasting,” said RSF.
The situation also improved in neighbouring Slovakia.
“The improvement of Slovakia’s position in the ranking can be explained by the progress in the fight for justice for the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová. In 2021, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict acquitting Marian Kočner and Alena Zsuzsová, giving hope for justice,” Pavol Szalai, head of EU and Balkans at Reporters Without Borders, told EURACTIV Slovakia.
Greece, for its part, experienced the most significant drop among the EU member states, falling 38 places after the murder of a journalist.