Estonia fell three places in the World Press Freedom Index 2020 rankings to 14th place. Russian propaganda and political pressure are two of the main issues the country faces.
The annual index, which is compiled by non-profit Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said last year Estonian news media "faced challenges, prompting journalists to question just how fragile their freedom truly is".
The report said: "Members of the far-right populist party EKRE, a part of the ruling coalition, have been verbally attacking journalists with such intensity that the president decided to intervene.
"In addition to facing pressure from politicians, press freedom was restricted from within one of the most important newsrooms.
"In 2019, reports began emerging that the owner of Estonia's oldest newspaper, Postimees, had been interfering in the work of journalists and using the newspaper to promote his conservative worldview and advertise his other businesses. In response to these revelations, almost all journalists of the investigative and opinion desks resigned.
"As Estonia is a small country with high media ownership concentration, the case led to a country-wide discussion on freedom of the press.
"Another factor defining the discussion on press freedom in Estonia is Russian propaganda. At the end of 2019, Estonia forced the pro-Kremlin Sputnik news outlet to close its office in Tallinn. Authorities justified the move with the fact that a director-general of the Sputnik Estonia's umbrella company is subject to EU sanctions for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Subsequently, the Russian government launched a global campaign against Estonia claiming that Estonia oppresses Russian media."
Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands were the top five highest ranked countries.
Above and below Estonia is Ireland in 13th place and Iceland in 15th position.
The worst ranked countries were China at 177, Eritrea at 178, Turkmenistan on 179 and North Korea in last place at 180.
Estonia ranked 11th in 2019's rankings and 12th in 2018.
RSF "extremely concerned" for future of independent journalism
In January 2020, RSF published a statement saying the organization was "extremely concerned" for the future of independent journalism in Estonia.
The Paris-based international nonprofit non-governmental organization voiced the concerns after an exodus of nearly all investigative reporters and editorial writers from leading daily Postimees in a matter of weeks.
"The crisis at Postimees seems to be the culmination of a series of disagreements between its journalists and management that began in 2015, when Margus Linnamäe became the sole owner, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in pharmaceutical retail," RSF wrote, noting that the daily, founded in 1857, had been Estonia's most respected newspaper until now.
Editor: Helen Wright