A remark Czech president Miloš Zeman made to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Bejing Sunday, has since drawn sharp criticism from both the Czech foreign minister and legions of social media users.
According to RT News and other outlets, as the two heads of state walked together, Zeman said in Russian: “there are too many journalists, we should liquidate them.”
The time of the comment was unfortunate as it seems to underscore the findings of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, released last month, in which the Czech Republic slipped in the rankings.
The index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a network of correspondents in 130 countries advocating media freedom around the world, dropped the Czech Republic two points from 23 to 21 this year, citing the rise of oligarchs for the country’s decreased standing.
“The concentration of media ownership has reached critical levels. Since 2008, new oligarchs have been using their fortunes to buy up newspapers to consolidate their influence. Several bills were drafted during 2016 with the aim of increasing the penalties for criminal defamation, especially when the President is concerned.”
The report goes on to say:
“One of them, Andrej Babiš, is both Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister as well as owner of the two most influential daily newspapers. A law designed to combat conflicts of interest and prevent government ministers from owning media outlets – called the anti-Babis law – was adopted in 2016.”
(See our 2016 article on the Lex Babiš law)
The scrutiny of the mogul’s role in government has also reached critical levels, causing Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka to announce the resignation of his cabinet over the business dealings of his political rival.
The index, a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework, and safety of journalists in each country, ranks 180 countries.
The US ranks #43, down two positions from 2016; the UK ranks #40 down from 38 in 2016. Of the 180 countries listed, North Korea came in last.
See the full index here.