Friday 2 May 2014

Greece falls to lowest EU rankings for press freedom

E-Net's English Edition carried an interesting article on Freedom House's press freedom ranking of Greece today (Greece's 'partly free' press falls further in world rankings). According to E-Net:
"Greece, following its decline to the Partly Free category in 2012, fell a further five points in 2013. This was caused in large part by the government’s abrupt shutdown of the public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) in an opaque manner in June. A new entity, New Hellenic Radio, Internet and Television (Nerit), will launch in 2014 with a drastically reduced staff. In addition, the year featured an increase in libel cases and the use of surveillance against journalists, as well as the nontransparent awarding of telecommunications licenses," the report said.
While Greece had the worst ranking in the entire European Union, the press in Italy (64th), Hungary (71st), Bulgaria (78th), Croatia (83rd), Romania (84th) were also deemed only "partly free".

The story was also reported in Kathimerini's English edition and widely in the Greek-language media.  

This story occurs against an intensely political background of the role of the press in Greece. Stylianos Papathanassopoulos has an excellent English-language review of the background of the deregulation of the press in Greece (The Politics and the Effects of Deregulation on Greek Television) published in the European Journal of Communication (1997). This provides excellent background reading on deregulation and why both the deregulated system but also the state-controlled system have failed. 

Reuters ran an article on the Greek press, special interest and corruption in 2012 (Special Report: Greece's Triangle of Power), which provides a series of snapshots of conflicts of interest between the government and media. Reading about Simos Kedikoglou, the government spokesman, wanting to "normalise" the Greek media sector only a few months before the shut-down of ERT is a good example of the Orwellian approach to governance in this country. 

Kostas Vaxevanis, publisher of Hot Doc and the Greek journalist who published the Lagarde list of 2000 names of Greek bank deposit-holders in Switzerland, wrote an article on  (Corruption, fear and silence: the state of Greek media today) in 2013 in which he quotes:

Greece lives in the grip of a peculiar state within the state. The role of journalism is trimmed and those who defend it are being targeted. Silence and concealment is one issue. The second is that an effort is being made to criminalize the investigation of the truth in opposition to the public’s right to transparent and accountable journalism. In essence, the basic journalistic functions of public scrutiny have been neutralised.

The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (Eliamep) participated in an EU-funded FP7 Project on media in the European Union. Their case study on Greece (Does media policy promote media freedom and independence? The case of Greece) published in 2011 concludes that

The analysis discloses that, despite the proliferation of policy actors and norms, brought about by the liberalisation of the media sector, technological developments and regulatory pressures stemming beyond the state, Greek media policy-making has remained highly centralised in the hands of the government of the day. This cabinet-centred model of media policy-making has been thoroughly influenced, albeit in opaque and informal ways, by powerful economic and business interests who have sought to gain power, profit, or both, at the expense of the normative functions that the media is expected to perform in the public interest. The limited involvement of independent bodies in policy-making, the absence of journalistic professionalism, and the lack of a strong civil society that is able and willing to defend media freedom and independence have all reinforced such trends.

All good intentions to the contrary, none of this is likely to change soon.

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