More than half of the EU's 27 countries score badly in the annual press freedom index carried out by the Paris-based NGO Reporters without Borders - a negative trend compared to previous years, even though three EU members are the freest places in the
world in which to be a journalist.
It is disturbing to see several European Union member countries continuing to fall in the index. If it does not pull itself together, the EU risks losing its position as world leader in respect for human rights, Reporters Without Borders
secretary-general Jean-Francois Julliard said in a statement accompanying the study.
Thirteen of the EU's 27 members are in the world top 20. But some of the other 14 stand very low while the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen, the report says.
The poor performers include France and Italy, where events in the past year – violation of the protection of journalists' sources, concentration of media ownership, displays of contempt by government officials and judicial summonses - continue to follow
a negative line.
Italy, where some 10 journalists still live under police protection, stayed in 49th place out of 178, scoring worse than Bosnia and sharing the same position as Burkina Faso.
Greece got the worst marks in the EU, plummeting a huge 35 places to 70, where it now sits alongside the bloc's other meida villain, Bulgaria.
The Greek plunge is due to political unrest and related physical attacks on journalists. Athens was also criticised for political meddling, going so far as to ask the German government to apologise for nasty headlines about the Greek economic
crisis in the Stern magazine.
Romania went down two places to 52. Reporters Without Borders noted that the government now considers the media a threat to national security and plans to censor activities.
At the top end, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands share the pole position with non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The group-of-six has held the top score since the index was created in 2002.
Iceland won special praise for its bill, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), to provide a unique level of legal protection for reporters.
In Denmark, which holds 11th place, murder attempts against Mohammed cartoonists Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks, could create a climate of self-censorship, Reporters Without Borders warned.
The survey also pointed to serious violations on the EU's doorstep.
EU candidate Turkey was placed in 138th place, next to Ethiopia (139) and Russia (140). The NGO spoke of a frenzied proliferation of lawsuits [and] incarcerations of reporters.
EU aspirant Ukraine placed at 131. Censorship has signalled its return, particularly in the audiovisual sector, the study said on the return to power of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukoych.
Elsewhere the Philippines, Ukraine, Greece and Kyrgyzstan all fell sharply in this year's index. In the Philippines this was due to the massacre of around 30 journalists by a local baron, in Ukraine to the slow and steady deterioration in press freedom
since Viktor Yanukovych's election as president in February, in Greece to political unrest and physical attacks on several journalists, and in Kyrgyzstan to the ethnic hatred campaign that accompanied the political turmoil.
India's and Thailand's rankings drop due to a breakout of serious violence Political violence has produced some very troubling tumbles in the rankings. Thailand (153rd) – where two journalists were killed and some fifteen wounded while covering the army
crackdown on the red shirts movement in Bangkok – lost 23 places, while India slipped to 122nd place (-17) mainly due to extreme violence in Kashmir.