More than half of people in four former communist countries fear media

More than half of people in four former communist countries fear media

According to a survey, more than half of people in four former communist central European counties fear media freedom is in danger, with majorities wanting government or EU measures to protect it.

The findings, from respondents in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are said to be the biggest opinion study on the issue conducted in the Visegr d countries. They will form part of the consultation process for a press freedom bill under preparation by the European Commission.

The bill spearheaded by the commission's vice-president for values and transparency, V ra Jourov is designed to safeguard media pluralism and independence amid rising concerns about ownership and potential government interference.

In order to spur action, 52% expressed concern about media freedom with the highest figure, 63%, recorded in Poland, whose rightwing nationalist Law and Justice Party PiS government is accused of aggressively targeting independent media with expensive lawsuits while meddling in public broadcasting.

Seventy-one per cent of the four countries backed government safeguarding legislation, while 59% supported giving the EU more powers to protect media liberties.

Misha Glenny, a British broadcaster and chair of the Committee for Editorial Independence, warned that the EU should not overlook Poland's transgressions as a reward for its role in Russia's war against Ukraine, especially when Hungary refuses to send weapons or cut energy supplies from Russia.

Since Ukraine, the European Commission and some European Union governments have decided to attack prime minister Viktor Orb n and Hungary because of their recalcitrant position, and they are giving Poland a free pass on some of the rule of law issues, he said.

The study of 4,069 people was conducted over a 16 day period in February, before Russia's invasion.

Hungary, where Orban s far-right Fidesz government won a fourth consecutive term this month, revealed the highest number of respondents 47% who think their country s media is not free. Only 30% of the voters rated it as free, compared to 47% in the Czech Republic, where support for media independence is highest.

Orban s government has come under scrutiny over the acquisition of 500 separate media outlets, which are now under the umbrella Kesma foundation, and interference in public broadcasting that critics say has reduced television and radio stations to propaganda channels, often voicing pro-Russian war narratives.

Support for media freedom among Fidesz backers is significantly less than among other groups, said V clav t tka, a media specialist at Loughborough University.

He said that the voters of Fidesz are a completely different tribe. Thirty per cent of them support media owners being in charge of content. That figure isn't replicated anywhere else. Veronika Munk, director of content at Telex, an independent Hungarian news site, founded after a pro-government businessman took over the outlet where she previously worked, said the decline of media freedom in Hungary served as a warning to others.

She said that Hungary shows how quickly things can change. Hungary was 10th out of around 160 countries in the 2006 Reporters Without Borders index. Asked if she feared things would deteriorate further, she said: That possibility is always there. The website is funded by donations from readers. One of my concerns is that if the government decides to cut this economic link, which they could do with a new law because they have two-thirds of the seats in parliament.