Armenia and Georgia, neighbors that compete over just about anything, from cuisine to culture, now seem to be going head to head over press freedom. Key media-freedom watchdogs seem to diverge about which of the two countries should take the lead in the South Caucasus.
For years, Georgia has carried the torch for media freedom in the region, a place that is hardly a bulwark of independent or high-quality media to begin with. But, according to the latest press freedom charts by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders, Armenia has taken over the baton.
The country was placed 77th in a ranking of 179 countries, 33 notches above Georgia, and way ahead of neighbors Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran.
Reporters without Borders wrote that both Armenia and Georgia “enjoy broad media pluralism and a low level of state censorship, but they still face important challenges concerning media independence and the working environment of journalists" who are "often treated as easy prey by a variety of pressure groups."
Ahead of Armenia's February 18 presidential election, the powers-that-be are dominating mainstream media, but face bold criticism by a variety of smaller news outlets. Yet despite this dynamic, Armenia is still considered as “not free” by Washington, DC-based Freedom House, and is placed behind “partly free” Georgia.
In its last assessment, which focused on events in 2011, Freedom House said that Georgia, with its increasingly competitive media environment, is still the regional leader.
The only country in the South Caucasus that causes no divergence of views among watchdog groups is Azerbaijan. Everyone seems to agree that the richest of the lot is also the most repressive.