While Estonia is still among countries sporting the greatest press freedom in the world, it fell from fourth place in last year's Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index to eighth this year.
Although press freedom is guaranteed on the legal and political levels, journalists face the risk of self-censorship due to anti-defamation legislation and cyber-bullying, the RSF finds in its 2023 overview.
"The political environment has been characterized by a relative neutrality towards journalism and few verbal attacks, which has contributed to journalists being able to hold politicians accountable without fear of persecution," the RSF notes in regard to political context. But the organization's political indicator still shows a relative deterioration of the situation in Estonia, with the country dropping from fifth place to 17th in the last year in this category.
Estonia has lost even more ground in terms of legal environment, dropping from fifth in 2022 to 18th this year. The numeric values of both categories have also fallen.
"Although constitutionally guaranteed, media freedom is constrained by legislation protecting against defamation and disclosure of private data. While the fear of defamation lawsuits may lead to self-censorship, the laws protecting private data have recently become a pretext of Estonian authorities to increasingly restrict media's access to public information," Reporters Without Borders find.
Economic context has also worked to erode Estonia's position. The country has dropped from sixth place to tenth.
RSF finds that "media ownership in Estonia is so concentrated that it can be considered an oligopoly. The owners of the two major media groups (Postimees Grupp and Ekspress Grupp) also have stakes in other business sectors. Estonian private media are operating within a small market with limited access to funding, which constrains them to looking for new revenue sources such as organizing events. The budget for public broadcasting is increasingly limited and may be subject to political influence."
Regarding the safety of journalists, Reporters Without Borders find that while physical attacks remain extremely rare, members of the press have been exposed to a growing number of online threats by private individuals, the most severe cases being reported to the police and investigated. "The media houses have deployed measures to better protect journalists, but in the context of lacking systematic psychological assistance, cyberbullying may have a self-censorship effect on journalists."
Nordics on top
Norway continues as the country with the greatest level of media freedom in the world (95.18 points), followed by Ireland (89.91) and Denmark (89.48). Sweden (88.15) came in fourth in 2023, Finland (87.94) fifth, the Netherlands (87) sixth, Lithuania (86.79) seventh and Estonia (85.31) eighth. Latvia is in 16th place.
The U.S. comes in 45th (71.22 points) and Russia 164th (34.77) out of 180 countries monitored.
Media freedom is most constrained in Vietnam (24.58), China (22.97), which is described as the number one detainer of journalists, and North Korea (21.72).
Editor: Marcus Turovski