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From doctored weather reports to media freedom champions

11 Nov

A quarter of century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a number of post-communist countries have made impressive progress towards media freedom. From doctored weather reports (in the USSR and Romania, according to Herman Ermolaev, an expert on Soviet censorship), party propaganda, strict censorship and jamming of Western broadcasts, they have moved to the top of press freedom indexes.

Media+freedom+bubble+chart---flipped

Some of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 have trumped long-established Western democracies such as Britain and France in the index launched in 2002 by the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Slovakia was joint first in 2004 and third in 2007 in the RSF index, in the same league as northern European paragons of media freedom such as Finland and Norway.

In 2006, six post-communist countries came in the top ten and RSF praised the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia as havens of freedom of expression.

Many of these countries have since hit a few snags, which led to their fall in media freedom ratings. However, some seem to be on their way back. Four post-communist countries came in top twenty in the latest RSF index, ahead of the UK, France and Italy.

But the picture is uneven: Hungary made impressive progress only to fall back dramatically in recent years. A law passed in 2010 established a new regulatory body with sweeping authority over all media and drastically curtailed the independence of public-service broadcasters.

The only EU members to fare worse than Hungary in RSF’s 2014 index are post-communist Croatia (65) and Bulgaria (100) as well as Greece (99).

Le Pen made it!

18 Jun

Marine Le Pen can, and at the same time, cannot be satisfied with the results of the legislative elections on 10 and 17 June. Under her leadership, the far-right National Front has finally escaped from the curse of the French electoral system that has kept it out of the Parliament for the last 24 years. It will now have two deputies sitting there. However, as a big surprise, not Marine, but her 22-year-old niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, will be one of them.

Social media has not been kind to this newly elected legislator, with many netizens pointing to her perceived immaturity.

“Can I also have my kids looked after by the National Assembly?” joked ‏@JCBordes at 8:38 PM on 17 June.

One tweet linked to a Youtube video from August 2010, headlined “When Marion Le Pen cracks”. Then 20-year-old woman speaks about her political activism. Unable to answer a trivial question about her programme for the regional elections she is running in, she walks out of shot.

The video generated a lot of comment following her election to Parliament this year.

Other twitterers are critical of Marion’s claim that she represents France’s youth:

‏”I’m happy to be a spokesperson for French youth”, she was quoted as saying by @BrozdziakFred, who added “She is a spokesperson for idiotic ideas”. (8:43 PM, 17 June)

In the same spirit, @Eli_Dy, asks who will explain to Marion Le Pen “that not all French youth are racist”. (3:56 PM, 18 Jun 12)
‏And puzzled @laur_ages adds: “I don’t know which youth she is talking about, because my youth send the FN (National Front) to hell. (10:28 PM, 17 Jun 12)

I must admit, there have also been tweets expressing admiration for the success of the young woman. Indeed, she is the youngest legislator in modern French history. One twitterer wondered why no other party has had a young person elected. “It is grotesque that the PS and the UMP have not been able to elect any young French people to the Parliament”, ‏@Bennoit1 tweeted at 9:54 PM on 17 June.

However, positive comments were much less frequent than criticism on Twitter.

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