World Press Freedom Day: A Parallel Perspective on Western Balkans and Central Europe

min read

Lorin Kadiu and Veronika Munk on challenges, steps to improvement and more

For over three decades, since the recommendation adopted at the 26th General Assembly of UNESCO in 1991, the world has been observing World Press Freedom Day every 3 May. In a rapidly evolving global landscape, the media serves as a vital source of information and a fundamental mechanism for accountability, yet it faces numerous challenges. We spoke with journalists Lorin Kadiu (Citizens Channel) and Veronika Munk (Denník N) about the issues they encounter in their respective countries - Albania and Slovakia - and strategies for improvement, reporting challenges, and various other aspects. Read more about the similarities and differences between the Western Balkans and Central Europe regarding understanding and dealing with issues journalists face daily.

How would you assess the current state of media freedom in your country? 

Lorin: The space for free speech and free media is shrinking. This is not just personal opinion, but as mentioned in several reports - from Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, and Transparency International, they all agree on the same thing. There is either deterioration, or no progress of media freedom in the country.  We live in an environment that is not very friendly towards people that want to express opinions independently and hold accountable our governments. They obviously don’t like it and we start our work every day having this in mind.

Veronika: I'm Hungarian and I worked for more than two decades in Hungary, but since last year I have been working in Slovakia. There are some unfortunate similarities between these two countries because both of the countries are led by autocratic populist governments and both of these governments consider independent outlets, and independent journalists as enemies. I think the situation is more serious in Hungary, especially since the Orban government has a constitutional majority in the parliament. One other important factor in Hungary is that the advertisement market itself is heavily influenced by politics. Therefore, and the largest actor, paying actor in the advertisement market is the Hungarian state itself, they can relocate many, many resources in terms of money to those outlets that they would like to hear louder in the public sphere, which means, again, their political agenda and their political message is basically based on these outlets that are supported by the government through advertisements, so they can act as good soldiers for the government.

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

In your experience, what are the most pressing challenges journalists face in your country? 

Lorin: The environment that is very hostile to an independent freelance journalist or an independent organisation or media. This is due to the fact that journalists and media have very weak professional and social status. In Albania, journalists are subject to threats, also being physical at times, and there is no mechanism in place to not only prevent but also investigate these threats when they happen. Lack of financial independence is also important because individual journalists and media cannot function without resources, but we see the whole environment as very dependent on shady ways of financing. This translates automatically to the editorial policies, especially in the big media. Them being dependent on different ways of injecting either public money or money that is coming from unofficial or not so clean sources.

Veronika: In Slovakia, there are some quite concerning news in terms of freedom of press. One is what's happening currently, like these days with the public service media, because Robert Fico's government decided to implement a new law and establish a new public service media organisation with broadcasting and radio operation. And with this new law, they were able to change the management, which seems to be much more in favour of the governmental agenda, the governmental political issues.  In Hungary, similar to Slovakia, there are some quite big oligarchic groups, which own pro-governmental or very popular tabloid media outlets. I have personally experienced these kinds of pressures when new owners came in. So, it is quite a similar move in both Central European countries. 

Photo by Joppe Spaa on Unsplash

How do you navigate the complexities of reporting in an environment where misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech abound? 

Lorin: If you keep to the basics and do your job correctly, then you are not contributing to disinformation. At the Citizen Channel, we don’t think it's enough. We have taken a few steps to try to regulate. We have set up a complaint mechanism, a board of ethics which is small. I am realistic to say it will not change the way the media works, but of course, these things take time.

Veronika: I have been working in different news organisations, in different leading positions for basically all of my life, and I can confirm that social media is super important too in distributing news and counter fact-checking misinformation, disinformation. But, at the same time, social media and big companies that are behind the social media platforms are also making our life as news organisations quite difficult, because it is an extreme dependency towards Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, etc. We need to be much more concerned, and we need to find ways not to just only use social media as a distributional platform or marketing platforms to our operations, because it's totally intransparent how their algorithms work. It's not just the case in Hungary and Slovakia, but it's a global phenomenon. 

Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

What are the main changes that should happen for journalists to become safer and free in their reporting?

Lorin: Make democracy work. It would improve many of the problematic aspects. We have to reflect more and think about what the sector can do to improve itself in a hostile environment. We also need to strengthen the status of journalists as workers and citizens in society. We can also push for better laws and legal framework. We have to be prepared and read, research, do the homework and be part of the battle for free speech and free media. No one will hand it to us for free.

Veronika: One is media literacy should be strengthened among the younger generation, 

because therefore they can understand what quality journalism means, why information, why facts are important to them, not just weather forecasts when we know that we should bring a coat or not, but also who is a core politician and should I vote for them or not. It should start at a very early age in education. The other factor is a more boring part, but a more important part, because we can talk about journalistic independence and independent journalistic outlets, but we are not able to talk about them if financial independence doesn't exist. The best opportunity for financial independence to develop is if the readers themselves contribute financially to the operations of the outlets that they like.

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