The importance of press freedom in a Europe stricken by war and extremism

Today sees the launch of the World Press Freedom Index from Tyto’s pro bono client Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders — RSF). The Index assesses the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories, now in its 20th edition. According to RSF, the European Union is now “caught between two extremes”, as the region now shows significant disparities. While Norway remains at the top of the World Press Freedom Index and countries such as Estonia and Lithuania are among the top ten, other countries such as Greece are now ranking last place in Europe (108th in the full ranking).  

This polarisation is fuelled by two important trends. First, the popularity of the “Fox News Model” and the spread of misinformation, amplified by the use of social networks. And second, the asymmetry between open democracies and despotic regimes that control their media while also waging propaganda wars against the world’s democracies. According to RSF, the invasion of Ukraine (106th) by Russia (155th) at the end of February reflects this process, as the physical conflict was preceded by a propaganda war. RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said: “The creation of media weaponry in authoritarian countries eliminates their citizens’ right to information but is also linked to the rise in international tension, which can lead to the worst kind of wars.”   

Due to the changes in how information is shared and transmitted, as well as the power relations between countries, this two-sided issue described above has created a climate of increased tension and polarisation all around the world.  

The media industry is currently coping with a lot of pressure due to the Ukrainian war and the financial impact of two years of the pandemic, as well as the rise of extremism on the European continent. According to RSF’s 2022 Index, the freedom of the press situation is classified as “very bad” in a record number of 28 countries this year. Twelve countries, including Belarus (153rd) and Russia (155th), are on the Index’s red list (indicating “very bad” press freedom situations) on the map.   

More positively, the United Kingdom has climbed 9 places in the ranking (24th in 2022 vs. 33rd in the 2021 ranking), but it is worth highlighting that concerns continue to surround the situation in the UK due to processes such as the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In France (ranked 26th in 2022, up from 34th in 2021), where presidential elections were recently held, we are still seeing social and political tensions being fuelled by social media and new opinion-driven media. 

Safeguarding press freedom 

As a PR and communications agency, our work has always depended on a well-functioning media and information industry. We rely on the relationships we build with journalists, so it is extremely relevant to us to do our part and collaborate to help raise awareness of the unique importance of these issues. At a time when disinformation and propaganda threaten freedom of information and the security of all nations, providing honest and fair journalism is an invaluable weapon against these harmful tendencies. 

We are proud to support Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders — RSF), an international NGO which promotes and defends the freedom of the press around the world, through the Tyto Foundation. Through this pro bono partnership, we hope to help RSF raise greater awareness of the dangers faced by journalists around the world, and, as we are now witnessing first-hand in Europe, the risks posed by a declining freedom of the press. Today, the work done by organisations like RSF is more relevant than ever.