Lithuania has risen two spots to 28th in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday. However, the country also “saw numerous attempts by the ruling party against freedom of expression,” it said.
In 2019, Lithuania saw legislative attempts to limit press freedom on various grounds, the RSF said.
Due to new legislation, the country’s media regulator can now suspend broadcasts for 72 hours, if they represent a threat to national security.
“The Commission can decide without a court order and on the basis of an opinion of institutions responsible for national security,” the RSF said.
In May, the Constitutional Court blocked the ruling party’s “attempts on press freedom,” according to RSF. “The Court ruled that the [Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union] LVŽS-led parliamentary investigation of the public broadcaster LRT violated freedom of speech.”
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However, the party “refused to withdraw a new law on LRT based on the parliamentary investigation’s findings” and it will be put to a vote in the Seimas in the spring session.
The politicians have withdrawn proposals to change the public broadcaster's management model by introducing the LRT Board and an ombudsperson. Yet, the current proposals still include introducing an ethics officer, as well as committees, as part of the existing LRT Council.
Read more: Parliament's investigation of LRT breaches free speech, Constitutional Court rules
Additionally, the administration of public funding for cultural and education media could be transferred from an independent body to the country’s Culture Ministry, which could lead to “consensorhip on the part of the recipients,” according to RSF.
Reporters Without Borders also mentions a withdrawn bill which proposed classifying proposals deliberated by the government until they are adopted, for example, on a draft law.
“Following public outcry, the [Defence] Ministry withdrew the amendment,” said RSF.
Read more: Lithuania moves to limit publicity of defence documents
“Meanwhile, journalists continue to wrestle over access to public information, as state institutions refuse to grant it, although the existing regulations oblige them.”
The yearly rankings compiled by the world’s leading media watchdog looked at the freedom available to journalists in 180 countries by pooling the responses of media professionals to a questionnaire.
The answers were then combined with data on abuses and acts of violence against the media.
The questionnaire judges pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislation, transparency, and the infrastructure that supports the media.
Nordic countries topped the rankings, with Norway coming first, Finland second, and Denmark third.
Meanwhile Lithuania’s Baltic neighbours ranked higher, with Estonia coming in 14th and Latvia 22nd.
Poland, however, was ranked 62nd and Belarus 153rd. Russia ranked 149th.