Czechia advances 20 places in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index

The country has drastically improved year on year in the annual index issued by Reporters Without Borders.

Kathrin Yaromich

Written by Kathrin Yaromich Published on 04.05.2022 09:06:00 (updated on 04.05.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

The Czech Republic has drastically improved its position in this year's media freedom assessment ranking 20th out of all 180 countries surveyed as compared to last year's 40th place.

The annual index, released by Reporters without Borders (RSF) on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, aims to assess the state of journalism in countries and territories around the world.

While Czechia saw significant improvement in its press freedom scores this year, earning a label of "satisfactory," the report highlighted the ongoing dangers of an unregulated online information space that encourages fake news and propaganda around the world.

Democratic countries are being weakened by the asymmetry between open societies and authoritarian regimes that keep media outlets and online platforms in control and use disinformation attacks," the report says.

Around the world

According to the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, media enjoy the strongest freedom in the Nordic countries, such as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

Elsewhere in Europe, Montenegro, Moldova, and Bulgaria also had significant breakthroughs in terms of higher freedom of media scores. Neighboring Slovakia also ranks better now, at 27th, eight positions better than last year.

China (175th), Myanmar (176th), Turkmenistan (177th), Iran (178th), Eritrea (178th), and North Korea (180th), placed at the bottom of the ranking.

Russia fell five positions in the index, ranking at 155th, two places behind Belarus at 153th. Ukraine was ranked 106th. The RSF points out that this year's index is based on the data gathered by the end of January, and does not reflect the current events; however, the report draws attention to the war in Ukraine being preceded by intensified Russian propaganda.

What's behind Czechia's advance?

Experts say a key factor behind Czechia's leap is the departure of Andrej Babiš as head of the government – when Babiš was simultaneously one of the largest private media owners in the country and the top politician in power, Czechia ranked 40th. 

"One of the two major national dailies is owned by Babiš, a billionaire who became finance minister, and then prime minister between 2014 and 2017. His political presence has forced his media properties to strike a delicate balance in the coverage of political coverage. Unrestrained attacks on journalists from the highest ranks of government, especially President Zeman, have led to citizens’ growing distrust of journalists," writes Reporters Without Borders.

During the Babiš years, the Czech Republic gradually slipped from 21st place in 2016 to last year's 40. Its best ranking came in in 2006 (5th place) and in 2014 (13th place).

Todd Nesbitt, communication scholar and country reporter for RSF, told Expats.cz the increase could be explained in a number of ways. In addition to the change in top government leadership, "Some of the country reporters might have evaluated with a softer touch, however unintentionally," he says. 

"In the simple context of the frame provided, 'the effective possibility…to select, produce and disseminate…without threats' the Czech Republic really does belong higher than it used to be, threats here are very rare," said Nesbitt. 

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He also noted that Czechia's drastic move up the leaderboard could also be attributed to "some high profile events in other countries that caused those countries to slip rather than any radical change taking place here."

On World Press Freedom Day, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said his administration welcomes a free press, writing: "A democratic society cannot work without independent reporters and free media." He emphasized that his cabinet will not restrain any media in their activities and thanked reporters for their professional contribution to the public knowledge.

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