ATHENS — The independence of the media and the safety of journalists are under greater threat in Greece than in most other EU countries, according to a new report out Monday.
The report — named “Controlling the message: Challenges for independent reporting in Greece” — was compiled by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), an alliance led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, which conducted an “online fact-finding mission to Greece” in December 2021.
Greece dropped five places in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders, which described a “dangerous cocktail for press freedom” in the country, referring to state funds handed out without transparency, evidence of internal censorship of state media, and violence against journalists. Greece now ranks 70th in the index and has the 4th worst ranking in the EU.
Trust in the media in Greece is also very low. A survey carried out by German think tank the Friedrich Naumann Foundation last year found that 8 out of ten Greeks believe the media is controlled by the government or political parties, while two-thirds believe the Greek media broadcasts false news.
A recent survey for the Eteron Institute — a Greek think tank — found that just 10.7 percent of people trust the media.
The MFRR report notes that the situation in the Greek media landscape is not new, but sees a deterioration in press freedom since the conservative New Democracy party came to power in 2019, which is “obsessed with controlling the message” and “minimizing critical and dissenting voices.”
“News that is inconvenient or unflattering for the government, which includes reporting on serious human rights violations, does not get reported in many outlets, creating a significant obstacle for the public’s access to information and, subsequently, their informed participation in the democratic process,” the report says.
It also says that the murder of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in April 2021 has shone a spotlight on deeper problems regarding the safety of journalists in the country.
“The investigation progress appears slow and lacks basic transparency, which has had a chilling effect and leads to mistrust about the authorities’ ability or willingness to protect the journalistic community,” the report notes.
Late last year, Greece’s parliament adopted changes to the country’s criminal code, including a controversial addition that criminalizes the sharing of false information. The Athens Journalists’ Union, ESIEA, warned that the wording was far too vague and could result in reporters being prosecuted simply for expressing their views. Both the union and organizations such as Human Rights Watch have called for the law to be revoked.
The MFRR called on the Greek authorities to make sure those behind Karaivaz’s murder are swiftly brought to justice, ensure all attacks against journalists are properly investigated, treat media outlets equally, and allocate state funds in a transparent way. It also called for the criminal code on “fake news” to be amended.