Hostility toward journalists and media poses a serious threat to democracies around the world, including within Europe, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index on April 25.

As a region, Europe still ranks the highest on RSF’s index, but its rating also dropped more than that of any other region this year.

Four of the top five countries where press freedom deteriorated the most are in Europe. Malta, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Serbia all fell substantially.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, the watchdog voiced particular concern about the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, followed by the killing of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak just five months later in Slovakia.

With the rise of populist politics and “strongman” leaders, Europe’s downward trend will likely continue, according to RSF. Last year, Czech President Milos Zeman showed up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov bearing the words “for journalists”. Robert Fico, who resigned as Slovakia’s prime minister in March, called journalists “filthy, anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas”.

“I think the developments in Central and Eastern Europe make it clear that we are dealing in many cases with not-yet-established democracies, whose EU membership may have come too early,” Christian Mihr, the head of the German branch of RSF, told DW.

According to RSF, animosity toward journalists is “no longer confined to authoritarian countries such as Turkey and Egypt”.

The watchdog accused United States President Donald Trump, Russia and China of perpetrating anti-media rhetoric and actively seeking to curb press freedom.

On the other side, Norway held its place at the top of the World Press Freedom Index for the second year in a row. Germany climbed one place to 15.

As for the US, it fell two spots under Trump to 45. The UK is 40. Turkey, which has jailed the highest number of journalists worldwide, is now among the 25 most repressive countries. North Korea remained in last place out of the 180 countries ranked.

In a separate report, Euronews noted that countries in Europe filled all of the top five positions, with Norway followed by Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Switzerland.