- Hans Weber
- January 31, 2023
CENTRAL EUROPEANS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER DECLINE IN MEDIA FREEDOM: SURVEY
The majority of people in Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are concerned about media freedom in their country after seeing it decline over the last several years, suggests the first such research conducted in the Visegrad Four region, which was published on Tuesday.
The survey suggests however that there is much less agreement about what constitutes media freedom, and the survey results vary markedly between countries and political party affiliations.
European media has been facing a dual threat over the past decade, with illiberal governments, especially those in Central and South-East Europe, using sophisticated means to undermine independent media, while on the other side tech giants eat into the traditional media’s business. The result has been a steady deterioration in media pluralism, most notably in Poland and Hungary.
Against this backdrop, the Committee for Editorial Independence in cooperation with the Czech National Committee of the International Press Institute, and supported by the Bakala Foundation, launched the most detailed study ever undertaken to discover public attitudes towards media freedom and independence across the Visegrad Four countries, sampling 4,069 respondents aged 18 and over between February 1 and February 17.
The main findings of the survey were that a majority (52 per cent) of people believe the state of media freedom has worsened over the last five years, especially the Poles, and a majority (52 per cent) expressed concern about the current state of media freedom, with the Poles the most concerned and the Czechs the least.
“These findings are driven by sociodemographic factors – younger people tend to express relatively less concern [about declining media freedom], while it is the older generations who tend to be more concerned across those countries,” Vaclav Stetka, member of the Committee for Editorial Independence and one of the lead organisers of the survey, told a news conference.
Respondents who are voters of the ruling parties in Poland and Hungary – PiS and Fidesz, respectively – perceive the media in their country to be much freer than opposition voters do.
While the vast majority of respondents (80 per cent) see having an independent media as “absolutely important”, there is less agreement on the key ingredients that go into it. For example, most people agree that newsrooms should have full editorial autonomy and the government should not influence the content of public service broadcasters, though in Hungary the number of people who think so is markedly lower, with only a minority there (47 per cent) believing that media owners should be barred from interfering in editorial output.
“There is a relatively sizeable minority (15-20 per cent) who do not agree with some of the basic conditions for editorial autonomy – the interference of the government or media owners with the news content – [with] by far the highest disagreement in Hungary,” said the report.
Most respondents support an increased role for both the state and the EU in efforts to safeguard media freedom, with 71 per cent approving of strengthening legislation across all V4 countries.
A majority (59 per cent) also agree with the EU assuming a more substantial role in protecting media freedom, for example by imposing penalties or sanctions on governments that are restricting media pluralism.
This will be welcome news for the European Commission, which is in the process of beefing up its efforts to preserve media pluralism in the bloc, most notably with the announcement in November 2021 that it plans to enact a Media Freedom Act to ensure the integrity and independence of the EU media market.