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Posts Tagged ‘grecia’

Tutti i debiti della Germania

In Da altri media on 30/10/2013 at 09:35

Proponiamo di seguito una interessante intervista allo storico tedesco Albrecht Ritschl comparsa sullo Spiegel online e che contestualizza la crisi del debito e le richieste tedesche. Il punto principale e’ che, storicamente, la Germania e’ stata una nazione dal debito facile – cosa che se vogliamo puo’ pure spiegare le paranoie attuali – ma anche che spesso se l’e’ cavata a buon mercato. Buona parte della ricchezza attuale e’ dovuta alla generosita’ degli altri paesi che han chiuso 1 o 2 occhi sul debito tedesco. Cosa che invece, i tedeschi, non sembrano proprio intenzionati a fare.

GERMANY WAS THE BIGGEST DEBT TRANSGRESSOR OF THE 20TH CENTURY

di Yasmin El-Sharif

da Spiegal Online

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Ritschl, Germany is coming across like a know-it-all in the debate over aid for Greece. Berlin is intransigent and is demanding obedience from Athens. Is this attitude justified?

Ritschl: No, there is no basis for it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Most Germans would likely disagree.

Ritschl: That may be, but during the 20th century, Germany was responsible for what were the biggest national bankruptcies in recent history. It is only thanks to the United States, which sacrificed vast amounts of money after both World War I and World War II, that Germany is financially stable today and holds the status of Europe’s headmaster. That fact, unfortunately, often seems to be forgotten.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happened back then exactly?

Ritschl: From 1924 to 1929, the Weimar Republic lived on credit and even borrowed the money it needed for its World War I reparations payments from America. This credit pyramid collapsed during the economic crisis of 1931. The money was gone, the damage to the United States enormous, the effect on the global economy devastating.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The situation after World War II was similar.

Ritschl: But right afterwards, America immediately took steps to ensure there wouldn’t be a repeat of high reparations demands made on Germany. With only a few exceptions, all such demands were put on the backburner until Germany’s future reunification. For Germany, that was a life-saving gesture, and it was the actual financial basis of the Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle (that began in the 1950s). But it also meant that the victims of the German occupation in Europe also had to forgo reparations, including the Greeks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the current crisis, Greece was initially pledged €110 billion from the euro-zone and the International Monetary Fund. Now a further rescue package of similar dimensions has become necessary. How big were Germany’s previous defaults?

Ritschl: Measured in each case against the economic performance of the USA, the German debt default in the 1930s alone was as significant as the costs of the 2008 financial crisis. Compared to that default, today’s Greek payment problems are actually insignificant.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If there was a list of the worst global bankruptcies in history, where would Germany rank?

Ritschl: Germany is king when it comes to debt. Calculated based on the amount of losses compared to economic performance, Germany was the biggest debt transgressor of the 20th century.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Greece can’t compare?

Ritschl: No, the country has played a minor role. It is only the contagion danger for other euro-zone countries that is the problem.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Germany of today is considered the embodiment of stability. How many times has Germany become insolvent in the past?

Ritschl: That depends on how you do the math. During the past century alone, though, at least three times. After the first default during the 1930s, the US gave Germany a “haircut” in 1953, reducing its debt problem to practically nothing. Germany has been in a very good position ever since, even as other Europeans were forced to endure the burdens of World War II and the consequences of the German occupation. Germany even had a period of non-payment in 1990.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Really? A default?

Ritschl: Yes, then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl refused at the time to implement changes to the London Agreement on German External Debts of 1953. Under the terms of the agreement, in the event of a reunification, the issue of German reparations payments from World War II would be newly regulated. The only demand made was that a small remaining sum be paid, but we’re talking about minimal sums here. With the exception of compensation paid out to forced laborers, Germany did not pay any reparations after 1990 — and neither did it pay off the loans and occupation costs it pressed out of the countries it had occupied during World War II. Not to the Greeks, either.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Unlike in 1953, the current debate in Germany over the rescue of Greece is concerned not so much with a “haircut”, but rather an extension of the maturities of government bonds, i.e. a “soft debt restructuring.” Can one therefore even speak of an impending bankruptcy?

Ritschl: Absolutely. Even if a country is not 100 percent out of money, it could still be broke. Just like in the case of Germany in the 1950s, it is illusory to think that Greeks would ever pay off their debts alone. Those who are unable to do that are considered to be flat broke. It is now necessary to determine how high the failure rate of government bonds is, and how much money the country’s creditors must sacrifice. It’s above all a matter of finding the paymaster.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The biggest paymaster would surely be Germany.

Ritschl: That’s what it looks like, but we were also extremely reckless — and our export industry has thrived on orders. The anti-Greek sentiment that is widespread in many German media outlets is highly dangerous. And we are sitting in a glass house: Germany’s resurgence has only been possible through waiving extensive debt payments and stopping reparations to its World War II victims.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You’re saying that Germany should back down?

Ritschl: In the 20th century, Germany started two world wars, the second of which was conducted as a war of annihilation and extermination, and subsequently its enemies waived its reparations payments completely or to a considerable extent. No one in Greece has forgotten that Germany owes its economic prosperity to the grace of other nations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you mean by that?

Ritschl: The Greeks are very well aware of the antagonistic articles in the German media. If the mood in the country turns, old claims for reparations could be raised, from other European nations as well. And if Germany ever had to honor them, we would all be taken the cleaners. Compared with that, we can be grateful that Greece is being indulgently reorganized at our expense. If we follow public opinion here with its cheap propaganda and not wanting to pay, then eventually the old bills will be presented again.SPIEGEL ONLINE: Looking at history, what would be the best solution for Greece — and for Germany?

Ritschl: The German bankruptcies in the last century show that the sensible thing to do now would be to have a real reduction of the debt. Anyone who has lent money to Greece would then have to give up a considerable part of what they were owed. Some banks would not be able to cope with that, so there would have to be new aid programs. For Germany, this could be expensive, but we will have to pay either way. At least Greece would then have the chance to start over.

I nostri migliori amici yankee

In Internazionale on 01/07/2013 at 08:18

Prosegue sui media lo stillicidio di informazioni riguardanti le operazioni dell’agenzia di spionaggio statunitense NSA, fornite da Edward Snowden, già dipendente dell’agenzia ed ora bloccato a Mosca, in attesa di poter raggiungere un paese in cui richiedere asilo politico. Le ultime rivelazioni apparse questo fine settimana sui quotidiani riguardano le operazioni di spionaggio ai danni delle rappresentanze diplomatiche di alcuni paesi a Washington e presso le Nazioni Unite, a NewYork, ed anche alcune sedi di rappresentanza della UE. A conferma di quanto emerso qualche settimana fa e passato rapidamente sotto silenzio dopo il solito corollario di dichiarazioni stupite da parte dei governi, il governo statunitense controlla sistematicamente le comunicazioni e le attività di paesi suoi alleati europei all’interno della NATO, attraverso cimici e microspie collocate all’interno delle sedi diplomatiche e antenne per intercettare i colloqui, come nei film polizieschi. Addirittura, lo spionaggio delle riunioni ministeriali ed internazionali tenute nel palazzo Justus Lipsius a Bruxelles avveniva dal prossimo palazzo della NATO, organizzazione militare che include tra i propri membri alcuni dei paesi posti sotto controllo dagli USA. Al momento le nazioni europee vittime dello spionaggio incluse negli elenchi resi pubblici sono Francia, Grecia ed Italia sebbene potrebbero esser di più i paesi coinvolti.
Sebbene la Germania non risulti al momento tra gli obiettivi dell’opera di spionaggio “amico” il Ministro della Giustizia tedesco Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger ha dichiarato che quanto emerso in questi giorni, qualora confermato, ricorda l’epoca della Guerra Fredda; un paragone che dovrebbe far porre ai governanti europei quesiti sulla natura dell’alleanza con gli USA. Se infatti il conflitto a bassa intensità con il nemico rosso, l’URSS, giustificava agli occhi degli anticomunisti le ingerenze d’oltre oceano nelle questioni interne delle nazioni europee, con gli estremi casi del supporto alla dittatura greca (1967/74) ed dell’aiuto logistico alle organizzazioni che per quindici anni effettuarono opera di destabilizzazione politica tramite la Strategia della Tensione, oggi non sembrerebbe esserci una reale motivazione nello spionaggio di paesi nominalmente amici ed alleati militarmente nella NATO. Quale rischio concreto starebbero evitando gli Stati Uniti con lo spionaggio di stati amici? Considerato che da una dozzina di anni il nemico conclamato della democrazia e della libertà incarnati dal modello statunitense è l’integralismo islamico, in che modo il controllo dei tre paesi europei citati sopra servirebbe alla causa? Il tutto può avere un senso se si cambia paradigma; quello instauratosi dopo il 1945 non sarebbe un’alleanza tra pari, una collaborazione tra paesi amici, bensì una forma di protettorato.
Riprendendo un post di qualche giorno fa, il re è nudo, ci viene ancora una volta ripetuto, ma la convenienza politica rende le nostre classi dirigenti sorde.

Le banche e i soldi alla Grecia

In Da altri media on 19/06/2013 at 10:21

Sorpresa, sorpresa! Attac è andata a spulciare i conti della Grecia e ha dato un occhio a come sono stati usati gli aiuti europei e ha scoperto che il 75% di questi è andato alle banche, agli hedge fund e agli “oligarchi” greci, cioè in generale al sistema finanziario. Questo mentre la dioccupazione aumentava, i salari venivano tagliati, le medicine scarseggiavano, la tv veniva chiuso. Questo lo stato della democrazia oggi in Grecia ed in Europa. La storiella è sempre la stessa: bisognava salvare il sistema finanziario se no l’economia reale sarebbe stata distrutta – anche se peggio di come è andata è francamente difficile poterselo immaginare. E quindi, soldi europei – da resistuire!! in conto ovviamente al popolo greco – per salvare le banche, e legnate sulla testa dei cittadini con i programmi imposti da Bruxells per sborsare i soldi per i ricchi. Ma naturalmente i tedeschi ancora pensano che sono loro a pagare i conti dei greci fannulloni…..

ATTAC STUDY TRACES RESCUE FUNDS FOR GREECE

da DW.de

The anti-globalization pressure group Attac has published a study indicating that the bulk of the rescue funds made available for Greece have tended to go to help banks. Ordinary people haven’t profited much, it said.

More than three quarters of all rescue funds for Greece went directly to banks and rich investors, the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday, quoting a fresh study by the anti-capitalist pressure alliance Attac.

The group said out of the 207 billion euros ($276 billion) earmarked so far by international creditors, 160 billion euros ended up with Greek lenders and investors.

“Political elites have not been trying to rescue the Greek population, but the finance sector,” said Lisa Mittendrein from Attac Austria.

According to the calculations made by the pressure group, the government in Athens put 58 billion euros into the domestic bank’s recapitalization program. Another 55 billion euros were used to pay back sovereign bonds and 11 billion euros more to buy back accumulated debt.

Berlin not amused

Attac maintained that an additional 35 billion euros were spent with a view to sweeten the 2012 debt reduction scheme also known as the Greek haircut for affected insurance companies and investment funds.

The group also reported that only a small proportion of the money that actually did reach the Greek state budget could be used do anything meaningful for the population, as 35 billion euros had to be spent on debt servicing for the holders of sovereign bond bills.

“The widespread belief supported by European politicians that the various rescue packages for Greece have helped ordinary people in the country is no longer tenable,” Mittendrein commented. Instead, she argued, Greeks have been made to foot the bill in terms of harsh austerity measures with all the known drastic social consequences like record-high unemployment.

The German government rejected the conclusions made by Attac, arguing that Greeks have profited from the government in Athens having more time to implement reforms. Berlin also claimed that all Greeks had profited from saving lenders from bankruptcy.

Tragedia greca

In Da altri media on 17/06/2013 at 16:19

Per quanto ultimamente assente dai giornali, la crisi greca, la più drammatica tra le crisi europee, non è certo finita. Anzi. Ne abbiamo avuto prova in questi ultimi giorni, con ferite profonde che lacerano il tessuto sociale e culturale del paese. Innanzitutto la vergognosa chiusura della TV di stato, che verrà privatizzata in toto. Una voce in meno, l’ennesimo tassello informativo che andrà in mani private – ed in Italia dovremmo sapere molto bene come le TV private possano fare un gioco sporco, di disinformazione al servizio del padrone di turno. E con un target culturale-sociale ben diverso da quello che dovrebbe essere l’obiettivo culturale del pubblico (in questo caso, ahimè, la nostra TV pubblica non è certo invece l’esempio che ci si dovrebbe asepttare). Il che ci porta alla recente chiusura dell’Orchestra sinfonica greca, dopo 75 anni. Contabili alla Tremonti potrebbero dirci che la cultura non si mangia e di fronte alle catastrofi di Atene, questa non sia in fondo una gran perdita. Si tratta invece dell’uccisione di un simbolo culturale di straordinaria importanza che non lascia presagire davvero nulla di buono per il futuro della Grecia. Nell’articolo di seguito, Barry Eichengreen ci ricorda alcuni dei fatti salienti della crisi, l’enorme debito pubblico, la necessità delle riforme, ma punta il dito anche contro l’Europa, più preoccupata di salvare le banche tedesche e francesi che non gli standard di vita in Grecia, sostenendo che la Grecia avrebbe dovuto agire in difesa del suo interesse nazionale e lasciare che l’Europa la seguisse, invece di obbligarla a sanguinosi ricatti, con una società ormai disorganizzata in cui le cosiddette riforme non hanno sortito nessun effetto se non quello di immiserire il paese.

LESSONS OF A GREEK TRAGEDY

di Barry Eichengreen

da ProjectSyindicate

A visit to Greece leaves many vivid impressions. There are, of course, the country’s rich history, abundance of archeological sites, azure skies, and crystalline seas. But there is also the intense pressure under which Greek society is now functioning – and the extraordinary courage with which ordinary citizens are coping with economic disaster.

Inevitably, a visit also leaves questions. In particular, what should policymakers have done differently in confronting the country’s financial crisis?

The critical policy mistakes were those committed at the outset of the crisis. It was already clear in the first half of 2010, when Greece lost access to financial markets, that the public debt was unsustainable. The country’s sovereign debt should have been restructured without delay.

Had Greece quickly written down its debt burden by two-thirds, it would have been able to shed its crushing debt overhang. It could have used a portion of the interest savings to recapitalize the banks. It could have cut taxes, rather than raising them. It could have jump-started investment and gotten its economy moving again, if not in a matter of months, then, with luck, in no more than a year.

In its official post-mortem on the crisis, the International Monetary Fund now agrees that debt restructuring should have been undertaken earlier. But this was not its view at the time. Under the leadership of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Fund was in thrall to the French and German governments, which adamantly opposed debt relief.

The European Commission, for its part, has rejected the IMF’s mea culpa. Preoccupied by the state of the French and German banks, it continues to argue that delaying debt restructuring was the right thing to do. It has no regrets about throwing Greece to the wolves.

Given this opposition, the Greek government would have had to move unilaterally. Hindsight suggests that the authorities should have done just that. Faced with foreign opposition, the government should have announced its decision to restructure as a fait accompli.

Clearly, there would have been risks. The “troika” – the IMF, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank – might have refused to provide an aid package, forcing Greece to compress imports even more sharply. The ECB might have cut off emergency liquidity assistance, forcing the government to impose capital controls and even consider abandoning the euro.

But, by acting preemptively, Greek leaders could have shaped the dialogue. They could have said to their EU colleagues, “Look, we have no choice but to restructure what is clearly an unsustainable debt. But make no mistake: our preference is to remain in the eurozone. We are committed to reforms. Given this, don’t you agree that we are deserving of your support?”

Making a compelling case would have required Greece to get serious about those reforms. The government could have started by bringing together employers and unions to negotiate an equitable burden-sharing agreement, including an across-the-board reduction in wages and pensions, thereby getting a jump on internal devaluation. This could then have been complemented by a simultaneous agreement to restructure private debts. With everyone accepting sacrifices, it might have been possible to reach an accord on liberalizing closed professions and on comprehensive tax reform.

But, instead of working together with its social partners, the government, heeding the troika’s advice, dismantled the country’s collective-bargaining system, leaving workers unrepresented. Greece thus lacked a mechanism to negotiate a social compact to cut wages, pensions, and other obligations in an equitable way. With every vested interest fighting for itself, closed professions proved impossible to pry open. Doubting that there would be shared sacrifice, those same interest groups were unable to negotiate meaningful tax reform.

With the Greek government thus failing to push through structural reforms, it was unable to earn the trust of its creditors; and, skeptical that the government was committed to reform, the troika demanded a pound of flesh, in the form of front-loaded austerity, as the price of assistance. Those front-loaded tax increases and government-spending cuts plunged the economy deeper into recession, making a farce of claims that the public debt was sustainable – and forcing the inevitable debt restructuring after two more agonizing years.

Greece is now seeking to make the best of a difficult situation. It is attempting to breathe life into the campaign for structural reform. It is lobbying the troika for further debt relief. But the damage will not be easily undone. Past mistakes, committed not just by Greece, but also by its international partners, make a difficult short-term future unavoidable.

It is important that other countries draw the right lessons. If they do, Greece’s brave, beleaguered citizens can at least take comfort in knowing that many people elsewhere will be spared the same unnecessary sacrifices.

La crisi della libertà di stampa

In Da altri media on 03/06/2013 at 10:16

L’abbiamo chiamata crisi di sistema e non ci siamo sbagliati. L’economia spronfonda e con quella la nostra democrazia. Non a caso sono ormai diversi i paesi europei dove il grado di libertà di stampa è in netto declino. Dell’Italia sappiamo benissimo e potevamo immaginare che una situazione simile ci fosse ormai anche in Unghiera, che si sta velocemente trasformando in una dittatura soft alla russa. Ma le cose stanno peggiorando sensibilmente anche in Grecia e in Spagna, non a caso proprio nei paesi dove la crisi si fa sentire più dura. Una crisi che rischia di ripotarci indietro di decenni.

THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC CRISIS HAS COINCIDED WITH A DECLINE IN THE PRESS FREEDOM IN THE EU
di Jennifer Dunham e Zselyke Csaky
da LSE Blog

In the half decade since the beginning of the economic crisis, global press freedom has declined, and the EU has been no exception to this trend. Reporting on a new survey on press freedom, Jennifer Dunham and Zselyke Csaky find that Greece and Hungary have experienced large declines in press freedom in recent years, with Lithuania, Latvia and Spain also seeing falls. They write that the economic crisis has exacerbated deep-rooted problems across Europe’s media environments leading to a decline in print media circulation and diversity, as well as a greater concentration of media ownership.

Each year in May, Freedom House, a Washington, D.C.–based institute that specializes in research on global democracy, issues a report on the condition of press freedom around the world. The most significant—and disturbing—finding of Freedom of the Press 2013: A Global Survey of Media Independence was that the proportion of the global population that enjoys a free press continued to decline in 2012, falling to less than one in six, its lowest level in over a decade. The press freedom score in the European Union (EU), traditionally one of the world’s best-performing regions, also fell victim to this negative trend, with a further drop in the regional average and declines in both the old member states and those that joined the bloc in 2004 or later.

The year 2012 featured a notable deterioration in Greece and more moderate declines in Spain and other nations. This comes on the heels of a steep decline in Hungary’s score in recent years, and ongoing problems in Italy, Latvia, and Lithuania. As governments and media sectors felt the impact of the economic crisis that began in 2008, the state-run and private media suffered staff and salary cuts, declines in advertising revenue, and even the closure of outlets. This in turn had the effect of exacerbating existing problems, such as declining print circulation, the concentration of media ownership, decreasing print media diversity, and expanding influence on content by political or business interests.

Figure One – Average Press Freedom Scores in the EU, 2008–12

Media Freedom Fig 1

Scores are on a scale of 0–100, with 0 as best and 100 as worst. Categories: Free (0-30), Partly Free (31-60), and Not Free (61-100).

Greece’s score decline was the largest in the region in 2012. It fell from 30 to 41 on the survey’s 100-point scale, triggering a change in the country’s press freedom status, from Free to Partly Free. (The third category in the three-tiered system is Not Free.) While Greek society as a whole suffered from economic and political turmoil, the Greek media endured widespread staff cutbacks and some closures of outlets. Journalists also faced heightened legal and physical harassment and pressure from owners or politicians to toe a certain editorial line. These factors damaged the media’s ability to perform their watchdog role and keep citizens adequately informed about election campaigns, austerity measures, corruption, and other critical issues.

In one prominent example, journalist Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested and charged with violation of privacy for publishing the so-called Lagarde List of prominent Greek citizens who had transferred funds to Swiss bank accounts, allegedly to avoid paying taxes in Greece. Although he was initially acquitted, he currently faces a retrial. Furthermore, there were cases of politically motivated firings and suspensions at both state and private media. Journalists were physically attacked while covering protests against government-imposed austerity measures, and targeted by the far-right Golden Dawn party.

The media environment in Spain has also suffered as a result of the economic crisis and a related series of austerity measures, with its score declining from 24 to 27 points in Freedom of the Press 2013—still in the Free range. Media diversity was affected as the advertising market contracted and a number of outlets closed, cut staff, or reduced salaries. Since 2008, 57 media outlets have closed, around one-sixth of the country’s journalists have lost their jobs, and those who remain receive only about half their precrisis salaries. Público, a left-leaning daily aimed at younger readers, stopped printing and switched to an online-only format in February 2012, leaving El País as the only major left-leaning newspaper in print. In addition, several journalists and staff at RTVE, the state-owned broadcaster, were removed after voicing criticism of the government’s controversial austerity policies. These developments raise significant concerns about political influence over content and a lack of diverse viewpoints in the mainstream media.

Latvia’s score has fallen to 28, three points shy of the Partly Free category. Declining advertising revenues since 2008 have caused media outlets’ budgets to shrink, resulting in tabloidization and the use of recycled content. Forced to search for new sources of income, some outlets have engaged in the questionable practice of “hidden advertising,” in which paid content is improperly disguised as news. While the country’s economic recovery has accelerated in the past two years, media ownership is becoming increasingly concentrated. Apart from economic problems, political interference in editorial policies has raised concerns, and the country is battling a growing trend of violence against journalists. The 2010 murder of newspaper owner Grigorijs Ņemcovs remains unsolved, and last year another journalist reporting on corruption and organized crime was badly beaten and shot at.

Figure Two – Largest Score Changes in the EU, 2008–12

Media Freedom Fig 2

Latvia’s Baltic neighbor, Lithuania, was also severely hit by the economic crisis, and its media sector suffered similar setbacks, though it is still ranked comfortably in the Free category. While the economy is currently performing well, Lithuania’s media and advertising sectors have not yet caught up. Media ownership has grown more concentrated over the last several years, and the industry’s recovery has been hampered by rising taxes on media outlets. Banks are barred by law from owning media, but many institutions work around those restrictions by maintaining media holdings through intermediaries, and newspapers controlled by financial institutions often demonstrate bias toward their owners. A number of politicians also have ownership stakes in media outlets.

Figure Three – Press Freedom Scores for Selected Countries, 2008–12

Media Freedom Fig 3

Italy did not suffer a decline in score for 2012, but it has been a regional outlier since 2008, when it fell into the Partly Free range due in large measure to the disproportionate influence of one man—then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi—over the country’s media. Berlusconi is a major private media owner, and his political position gave him control of the state-owned media as well, including influence over the appointment of directors and key journalists. While his resignation in November 2011 effectively decreased media concentration, Italy’s score did not improve significantly. It remained at 33 in 2012, with a Partly Free status, due in part to pressures from the economic crisis. Working conditions for journalists have become difficult in recent years; those with a full-time contract constitute only 19 percent of the workforce, and there is a significant pay gap between professional and freelance journalists. Those hoping to work full-time for one of the major outlets need a license from the journalists’ association, the Ordine dei Giornalisti, and obtaining one entails a lengthy and costly procedure. Other problems include the influence of political parties over nominations to the public broadcaster and the regulatory authority. This infamous phenomenon is called lottizzazione, or “dividing the spoils” between parties, and has long plagued Italian politics. Journalists also face physical threats or attacks from organized crime networks. In one case, investigative journalist Roberto Saviano has lived under 24-hour police protection since publishing the book Gomorrah, about the Neapolitan mafia, in 2006.

Hungary also avoided further score declines in 2012, but it fell precipitously over the previous three years—from a Free environment with a score of 21 in 2009 to Partly Free with a score of 36 in 2011. And as in Italy, the problems in Hungary cannot be attributed to economic factors alone. Press freedom has eroded in the legal and political areas under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who took office in 2010. His government adopted a new media law that provided for content restrictions and heavy fines; evidence emerged of a politically motivated licensing procedure that caused a critical radio station to lose its frequencies; and reports of censorship and self-censorship increased, especially at the public broadcasters. A series of rulings by the country’s Constitutional Court and legal amendments to meet objections from the European Commission have mitigated the impact of the government’s initiatives. For example, most of the content requirements in the media law have been removed, and a more balanced appointment procedure has been introduced for the head of the Media Authority. Moreover, the critical radio station, Klubradio, got back its frequency after an almost three-year court battle. Nevertheless, several problematic legal provisions remain in place. Media outlets (including online and print) still have to register with the Media Authority, for instance, and they can still receive large fines for violating human dignity or “discriminating against any nation.”

The relatively young democracies of the EU’s east and south have endured the worst press freedom setbacks in recent years, but even leaders of the democratic world like the United Kingdom are not without problems. The country’s libel laws heavily favor the plaintiff, resulting in significant “libel tourism,” though reforms enacted in 2013 appear to be a step in the right direction. Press freedom advocates are less satisfied with the conclusions of the November 2012 Leveson report, which suggested the adoption of statutory press regulations to solve the ethical crisis revealed by a scandal over illicit phone hacking by journalists. The use of superinjunctions also poses a threat to freedom of expression; these court-issued gag orders are an excessively powerful tool in the hands of those who can afford the legal expertise to secure them. Another issue that sets the United Kingdom apart from the best-performing European countries is the persistence of occasional attacks and threats against journalists, especially in Northern Ireland. 

The economic crisis has shed light on, and often exacerbated, deep-rooted problems in the media environments of Europe. These include the cozy relationships between politicians and media owners, government hostility toward critical reporting, and violence against journalists in the course of their work. However, the EU still easily outperforms the world’s other regions, and the recent decline in press freedom has been recognized by European policymakers. As governments contemplate an appropriate response, journalists across Europe are already turning to new media as an outlet for their work. The proliferation of digital media—whether online versions of newspapers, purely web-based news organizations, internet broadcasters, or individual blogs—serves to counteract the contraction of the print sector and often frees journalists from the restrictions and conflicting interests of large public or commercial institutions. In addition to addressing the problems affecting the media offline, policymakers will need to ensure that the legal, political, and economic freedom of online journalism is adequately protected, so that it can evolve into a robust alternative to traditional sources of unbiased information and in-depth investigative reporting on the key issues facing the public.