Greece ranked worst EU country for media freedom: New Democracy once again under the spotlight

New Democracy Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis IMF

The ruling New Democracy government is once again under the spotlight as Greece was the lowest-ranked EU country for press freedom, according to the annual World Press Freedom Index.

According to the report, released on Tuesday, the Mediterranean country has replaced Bulgaria as the worst-performing EU nation and now ranks 108th — down from 70th in last year’s index — on a list of 180 countries, compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

While the worst offenders against press freedom are non-EU countries — China, Belarus, Russia, Iran, Myanmar and North Korea — European countries have also seen press freedom deteriorate.

Italy went down by 17 spots in comparison with last year’s ranking, Slovenia down 18 spots, Austria down 14 and Belgium down 12.

Greece is among a list of countries including Slovenia, Poland and Hungary that have intensified draconian laws against journalists, the report says.

Athens passed a new law last year that makes it an offense for citizens to spread “false information” and is punishable by up to five years in jail.

Greek authorities failed to solve the murder of Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, who was gunned down outside his Athens home in April 2021.

To mark World Press Freedom day, the European Parliament will debate the issue of journalists’ safety on Tuesday at the plenary session in Strasbourg, where Transparency Commissioner Věra Jourová will highlight plans together with Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton to propose a “Media Freedom Act.”

The act is intended to enshrine media pluralism and independence in EU legislation, and will call on EU countries to back Brussels’ new law to protect journalists from abusive lawsuits.

The measure aims to give courts more power to swiftly dismiss such suits and even use potential penalties against them.

The World Press Freedom index classifies 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists, based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media and safety of journalists in each of the countries.

It is recalled that a 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.

The report, which was drafted following a December 2021 visit to Greece, 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, 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.

“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,” the report said.

“This has been further compounded by a lack of transparency around the allocation of state advertising and its distribution based on established partisan lines,” it added.

For its part, the report also said 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.

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