Estonia drops a place in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index

Estonia dropped one place in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, landing on the 15th spot in the world – which is still a very high ranking among the 180 countries in the index.

In 2020, Estonia ranked 14th; however, in 2015, the country ranked 10th and in 2013, 2014 and 2019 11th.

In this year’s index, Reporters Without Borders says that 2020 was a tough year for Estonian journalists. “Members of the government often attacked them verbally. Some politicians threatened to reduce funding for the state broadcaster because of its critical reporting.”

“On several occasions, government ministers refused to provide information to journalists at press conferences, without giving any valid reason. A penal code amendment that allows a court to ban journalists from covering a case was used in 2020. Several court orders prevented journalists from reporting information of a public interest nature.”

Martin Helme (left) and Mart Helme, the leaders of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), are known for their verbal attacks against the media.

Norway has the freest press in the world

“Nonetheless, the supreme court set a positive precedent for press freedom and the public interest in December by overturning a decision by the state auditing court preventing the newspaper Eesti Päevaleht from reporting the testimony of witnesses and part of a trial involving corruption at the port of Tallinn,” Reporters Without Borders says in its report on Estonia.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Estonian media received some state aid although it was less than initially envisaged, according to the report. “The two biggest privately-owned media companies were the biggest beneficiaries, receiving 1.5 million euros in state aid.”

2020 was the year the ultra-right-wing, populist Estonian Conservative People’s Party was part of the governing coalition, led by the centre-left, populist Centre Party. That government was inaugurated in April 2019 and resigned in January 2021. On 26 January 2021, a new government, formed between the centre-right, classical liberal Reform Party and the Centre Party was inaugurated.

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranking (click to enlarge).

The freest press in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders, is in Norway, followed by Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Costa Rica. Latvia ranks 22nd in the 2021 index, Lithuania 28th and Russia 150th among the 180 countries ranked. Eritrea has the least free press in the world.

The situation in the US not very rosy

It’s worth to mention that the United States – where the freedom of speech and press is written into the constitution – only ranks 44th in the world. According to Reporters Without Borders, the disappearance of local news and the ongoing and widespread distrust of the mainstream media still remains in the picture in the US and it even worsened in 2020 – president Donald Trump’s final year in the office.

In fact, in 2020, nearly 400 journalists were assaulted in the US and over 130 detained – “unprecedented numbers according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker”. “Trump himself vilified bonafide news outfits as ‘fake news’ and qualified award-winning journalists as the ‘enemy of the people’, feeding the type of threatening behaviour, including violence and the destruction of equipment, that journalists faced during the uprising against the US Capitol Building on 6 January 2021,” the report says.

Donald Trump at a 2020 campaign rally in Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Reporters Without Borders is an international non-profit and non-governmental organisation with the stated aim of safeguarding the right to freedom of information. It describes its advocacy as founded on the belief that everyone requires access to the news and information, in line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognises the right to receive and share information regardless of frontiers, along with other international rights charters.

The Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders since 2002 based upon the organisation’s own assessment of the countries’ press freedom records in the previous year. It intends to reflect the degree of freedom that journalists, news organisations and netizens have in each country, and the efforts made by authorities to respect this freedom.

Cover: The 2021 World Press Freedom Index map by Reporters Without Borders.

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