Greece: Media freedom under assault | Freedom of the Press


In a democracy, the media ought to hold authority and authorities in examine. In Greece, it feels increasingly more that it really works the opposite method round.

Take the story of Thanasis Koukakis, a 43-year-old monetary journalist who works for CNN Greece, and contributes to CNBC, the Monetary Instances and the Greek investigative outlet Inside Story. Citing nationwide safety considerations, in 2020 the Greek Nationwide Intelligence Service instantly administered by the prime minister’s workplace, intercepted his communications, whereas he was investigating the affairs of Greek bankers and businessmen. When the journalist grew to become conscious of this, the federal government tried to erase traces of the interception. Shortly after, his cell phone was contaminated with the Predator adware. The software program permits the person to achieve full entry to a goal’s cellphone to extract knowledge, contacts, and messages, together with these despatched by way of encrypted purposes, in addition to activate the microphone and entry the digital camera.

Koukakis isn’t the one sufferer of interception by the Nationwide Intelligence Service. Reporters of Solomon, a crew of investigative journalists researching migrant situations in Greece, Iliana Papangeli, and Stavros Malichudis additionally found that that they had been subjected to surveillance by the Greek intelligence companies, which monitored their work with minors on the island of Kos.

Quickly after the pair found the Secret Service’s curiosity of their reporting, they broke one other story, about an NGO coping with migrant housing that had potential ties to political figures. The response? A SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit In opposition to Public Participation).

In one other occasion, Stavroula Poulimeni, a member of a journalist cooperative referred to as AlterThess, was sued by a gold mining govt convicted of significant environmental crimes in northern Greece. The businessman accused her of processing his “delicate private knowledge” by reporting on his prior prison conviction.

The federal government appears to approve of such authorized gambits. A brand new regulation authorises the Nationwide Council for Radio and Tv (NCRTV) to impose recurrent administrative fines on newspapers for slander. The NCRTV has jurisdiction over channels utilizing public frequencies. This alarms the Athens Each day Newspaper Journalists’ Union, which claims that the brand new regulation instantly violates articles involving press freedom beneath the Greek Structure.

Underneath this regulation, the fines will probably be claimed by the bulk shareholders when the corporate that publishes the newspaper fails to pay and will probably be collected by the non-public monopoly distributor of Argos, owned by a government-friendly media mogul. The journalist union argues that the brand new rule threatens the viability of the media, particularly the smaller, impartial ones.

An analogous alarm was voiced by the Media Freedom Speedy Response, a bunch that displays press freedom within the European group. “Challenges to the independence of the media and the security of journalists are systemic in Greece,” asserted a latest report.

It argues that information that’s inconvenient for the federal government, together with probes into severe human rights violations, doesn’t get broadly reported. This causes a major impediment to the general public’s entry to info and, subsequently, their knowledgeable participation within the democratic course of.

Based on the MFRR immigration coverage, human rights violations dedicated in its implementation, and the humanitarian disaster that the migrant stream has created are extremely delicate matters for the federal government. Journalists face obstructions together with arbitrary arrest and detention, restriction of entry to migration hotspots, surveillance and harassment once they attempt to report on these matters. And even when impartial journalists depend on official info, they face a whole lack of transparency and even denial to offer info.

Going after the messenger: the instances of Vaxevanis and Papadakou

In January, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis survived a no-confidence vote tabled in parliament by the left-wing opposition over the federal government’s dealing with of a snowstorm that paralysed the nation. In a speech to parliament, Mitsotakis referred to the journalists who disclosed the Novartis corruption scandal in Greece as a “gang” who’re “free to train character assassination” – a time period interpreted as an easy try to affect the judiciary.

Prosecutors had summoned Kostas Vaxevanis, the editor of the publication Documento, and Yianna Papadakou, a former tv presenter, to Athens’ Supreme Court docket a couple of days earlier. They charged the 2 journalists with crimes linked to their reporting about authorities officers, together with ex-ministers, who allegedly accepted bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis with the intention to management the pricing of particular medicine.

The accused politicians have rejected the costs, claiming they’re politically motivated. That is even though the US Division of Justice in 2020 imposed a $347m tremendous on Novartis, as a result of case. Whereas it didn’t disclose any names, the corporate admitted to creating unlawful funds to Greek suppliers.

The anti-corruption prosecutor’s probe, which started in 2016, closed the case in opposition to two Greek lawmakers in January. A second inquiry, nevertheless, is constant in Greece, trying into an alleged frame-up involving a former minister, the corruption prosecutors who probed the Novartis case, and the 2 journalists.

Participation in a prison group, collaboration in wrongdoing and two counts of complicity within the misuse of authority are among the many allegations levelled in opposition to the journalists. Based on a brand new provision of the penal code authorized solely weeks in the past, minor offences associated to a “prison group” will now lead to precise jail sentences.

In different phrases, Papadakou and Vaxevanis, who reported extensively on the Novartis scandal, might see jail time. Such prosecution successfully might create a troubling precedent. It additionally raises considerations about whether or not whistleblower witnesses within the case in opposition to Novartis will proceed to be thought of credible, or whether or not they are going to be charged as properly.

It’s value noting that Greece was considered one of 17 European international locations that failed to include a brand new directive on the safety of whistleblowers of their authorized techniques and is now coming beneath strain. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the burden by decreasing journalists’ rights to entry info.

Reporters With out Borders final yr ranked Greece seventieth in its international index of press freedom, 5 positions decrease than in 2020. The nation’s standing has declined steadily over the earlier decade, a development that’s more likely to proceed, judging from latest occasions.

The federal government fiercely denies these accusations, stressing that pluralism is granted within the nation. However democracy is safeguarded when the press is free to talk fact to energy. That shouldn’t be the job of the courts to outline and resolve.

Vera Jourova,  the EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency, overtly warned that “the 2022 Rule of Legislation Report pays explicit consideration to developments pertaining to the press freedom and the security of journalists”.

These considerations have develop into notably worrying within the case of the homicide of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, exterior his house a yr in the past. Regardless of strain from Greek and European journalists’ associations, there was little progress within the case and people accountable haven’t been delivered to justice.

Even conservative politicians are actually elevating considerations about press freedom within the nation, suggesting, what many people are afraid of, that the conservative Greek authorities has been seduced by the populist conservative flip of nations throughout Europe, and now not strives to be a part of the so-called average liberal conservative milieu.

The development in Greece is indicative of the broader pressure rising in some EU international locations across the rule of regulation and the safety of freedoms – the core values of the EU. However the state of affairs in Greece is changing into notably grim with regard to issues of the press as issues accumulate, steadily attracting the curiosity of extra media freedom watchdogs. Seven teams, together with Reporters With out Borders and the European Federation of Journalists are actually elevating “severe considerations” in regards to the case of Koukakis. The Greek authorities ought to do extra to guard press freedom.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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