Media freedom report shakes Greece’s conservative government

In an interview with EURACTIV last week, Pavol Szalai, Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Head of EU/Balkans Desk, said, “The situation of press freedom in Greece is becoming comparable to the one in Hungary”. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Six international organisations for the freedom of the press have published a report accusing Greece’s ruling New Democracy party (EPP) of trying to control media.

While the report raises the alarm over a “systemic press freedom crisis”, the government replies that people are still free to opt on what media to follow.

In an interview with EURACTIV last week, Pavol Szalai, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Head of EU/Balkans Desk, said, “The situation of press freedom in Greece is becoming comparable to the one in Hungary”.

“We can see a deliberate political will to reduce press freedom. And at the same time, there are other dangerous situations linked to organised crime, which is probably behind the murder of Georges Karaivaz, who is one of the two EU journalists murdered last year”, he added.

The report was drafted following a December 2021 visit to the country.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) report noted that the systemic crisis affecting press freedom in Greece has been exacerbated by the New Democracy government’s attempts to “control the message” and minimise critical and dissenting voices.

“Newspapers and individual journalists that are ideologically on the side of the opposition or take a neutral stance are singled out by the government for unequal treatment that undermines their journalistic activities. This has been further compounded by a lack of transparency around the allocation of state advertising and its distribution based on established partisan lines,” the report added.

The report also says journalists covering migration issues such as pushbacks is becoming “increasingly difficult”.

“The press freedom violations faced by journalists doing so are linked to the government’s restrictive migration policy and an unwillingness to accept public scrutiny of it leading to obstructions to reporting such as arbitrary arrest and detention, restriction of access, surveillance and harassment”.

Without replying to any element of the report, New Democracy issued a statement saying the freedom of the press in Greece is institutionally guaranteed.

“Every citizen can be freely informed, at any time, through the media of his choice”, the conservative party said.

“The report highlights how Greece is becoming a problematic country on issues of press freedom and democracy,” main opposition leader and former PM Alexis Tsipras tweeted.

In Brussels, the media freedom situation in Greece has raised eyebrows.

EU Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová told EURACTIV.cz last December that Greece belongs to the EU countries considered “problematic” when it comes to press freedom.

Greece is ranked 70 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Asked if the Commission was worried about these rankings, a European Commission source told EURACTIV Greece that “the media freedom index is an important source for the Commission to inform its work and we pay close attention to it”.

Greek MEP Giorgos Kyrtsos was recently expelled from New Democracy party after he strongly criticised the government over the quality of press freedom in Greece saying PM Mitsotakis is heading the country toward “Orbanisation”.

The EPP group in the European Parliament led by Manfred Weber, a close ally of Mitsotakis, also suspended his rights as a member for six months.

In Brussels, it’s widely believed that the conservative leadership of the European Commission is offering Greek conservatives a temporary protective shield considering that New Democracy is currently the strongest ruling party of the ailing conservative EPP family.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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