Greek journalists denounce the decline in press freedom

Athens (AFP) – The killing of a journalist, the prime minister publicly reprimanding a foreign journalist, and alleged state surveillance. It was a bad year for media rights in Greece.

The southern European country fell five places in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and now ranks 70th out of 180 countries, behind Poland and Mongolia.

George Pleios, head of media studies at the National University of Athens, said the deterioration over the past year was alarming.

“Freedom of the press has become a concern,” he told AFP.

Pleios said a series of press freedom violations in recent years have included journalists being detained or intimidated, and police beating photographers during protests.

But in April, a prominent crime journalist, Giorgos Karaivaz, 52, was shot dead outside his home in Athens. The government ordered an investigation, but no arrests were made.

Prominent crime journalist Giorgos Karaivaz was shot dead outside his home in Athens in April Yiannis PANAGOPOULOS Eurokinissi/AFP

Over the past year, the government has ignored requests for information on key stories and pressured journalists for unfavorable stories, while parliament in November passed a new law punishing misinformation with a penalty. up to five years in prison.

People can now go to jail for alleged fake news ‘capable of causing public concern or fear’, in a move Athens newspaper journalists’ union Esiea said was too vague and risked restricting freedom of speech.

Journalists say that, throughout 2021, police and government departments routinely ignored their emails seeking answers about the coronavirus pandemic, police abuse and the migration crisis.

“Self-censorship”

In November, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis found himself embroiled in a public spat with a Dutch journalist who accused him of “lying” after Athens denied carrying out illegal pushbacks of migrants at sea.

In November, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis became embroiled in a public row with a Dutch journalist who accused him of having "lie" after Athens denied carrying out illegal pushbacks of migrants at sea
In November, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis found himself embroiled in a public spat with a Dutch journalist who accused him of “lying” after Athens denied illegally turning back migrants at sea Louisa GOULIAMAKIAFP

“You will not enter this building to insult me…or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts,” he told a press conference. with visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The journalist, Ingeborg Beugel, later said that she had received threats and temporarily left the country.

On November 13, the left-leaning daily Efsyn published what it said were internal intelligence notes gathering information on anti-vaxxers and activists helping migrants – but also on a journalist later hired by AFP.

In response to letters from AFP, Minister of State George Gerapetritis insisted “there is no surveillance of journalists in Greece”.

“Greece fully adheres to the values ​​of democratic society and the rule of law, in particular pluralism and freedom of the press,” he said.

He later added that media independence was “sacrosanct”.

“While we don’t always agree with what the media writes, we will defend…the right of a free press to report unhindered and independent of outside interference,” he said. -he declares.

But Greece has not opened an investigation into Efsyn’s alleged leaks.

The Efsyn reporter who published the story, Dimitris Terzis, accused the government and supporting media of “trying to bury the matter”.

Journalists say throughout 2021, police and government departments have consistently ignored their emails seeking answers about the coronavirus pandemic, police abuse and the migration crisis
Journalists say throughout 2021, police and government departments have consistently ignored their emails seeking answers about the coronavirus pandemic, police abuse and the migration crisis Document Hellenic Coast Guard/AFP

In February and December last year, journalists received letters of complaint from the government after reporting on two instances where Mitsotakis had apparently broken lockdown rules.

Fabien Perrier, correspondent for French-language media in Greece, says his editors received a letter from the Ministry of Culture in May about an article criticizing a new concrete walkway at the Acropolis.

He said journalists in Greece were under pressure to “practice self-censorship”.

Two journalists working for Greek media resigned last year, accusing the government of attempted censorship, allegations it has denied.

“Cloud of Fear”

Lambrini Papadopoulou, a media professor at the University of Athens, says Greece has a long history of collusion between the Greek media and political and financial elites.

Fabien Perrier, a French-language media correspondent in Greece, says his editors received a letter from the culture ministry in May regarding an article criticizing a new concrete walkway at the Acropolis
Fabien Perrier, a French-language media correspondent in Greece, says his editors received a letter from the culture ministry in May regarding an article criticizing a new concrete walkway at the Acropolis Petros Giannakouris swimming pool/AFP

“Problematic relations between the media and power are not new,” she said.

“There is little room for critical and independent journalism in Greece.”

George Tzogopoulos, a researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy think tank, says coverage of the pandemic in some Greek media is simply producing government announcements.

Dozens of outlets closed during the 2010-2018 Greek debt crisis, leaving survivors desperate for any form of support.

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, the government introduced a program to support the media with funds as part of a containment campaign.

But opposition parties say the money disproportionately benefited pro-government media. A parliamentary inquiry into the matter is underway.

Overall, RSF says the authorities have taken insufficient steps to protect journalists.

The 2010 murder of another journalist, 37-year-old Sokratis Giolias, also remains unsolved.

Pleios, the academic, says such failures leave journalists “under a cloud of fear”.

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