Media Status and Freedom in Greece
Greece is the lowest-ranked European country for press freedom
In its 2022 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders (RFS) assessed the current state of journalism in 180 countries and territories, while underlying major challenges for media organisations and journalists across the world.
According to the report, Greece “suffered serious setbacks in 2021 and 2022, with journalists regularly prevented from covering issues from migration to Covid-19. Further, the assassination of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in April 2021 remains unsolved despite the government’s promise of a quick investigation” (RSF, 2022). This setback is reflected in Greece´s position which now ranks 108th — down from 70th in last year’s index– the worst ranking for an EU member state. A huge debate followed the release of the report. In my opinion, this debate focused mostly on institutional issues but missed major elements that have a negative impact upon media environment.
What are the reasons for Greece´s dramatic deterioration?
The current situation in Greece is the result of institutional issues as well as ones related to the media environment.
- Necessity to address concerns regarding the recent amendments to the criminal code, which were passed under the pretext of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. This law allows for a disproportionate restriction of press freedom on shaky legal grounds.
- Necessity to address journalists’ safety since “extreme left and extreme right activists regularly attack the premises of the media they consider as ideological enemies”, for example during the coverage of protests or when covering rather controversial issues, such as the refugee crisis. In particular, photojournalists have been targeted by both security forces and extremists.
- Necessity to address SLAPPS (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) cases on national and EU level: SLAPPS cases “ undermine affected reporters’ and outlets’ ability to freely report on matters of public interest. The threat of costly lawsuits on already scarce resources can lead to self-censorship (Media Freedom Rapid Response Report, p. 13)
- Journalists as victims of surveillance: It is a a global issue with relevance also for Greece. Relevant action is needed in order to protect journalistic practice from such threats that undermine journalists’ work and rights.
- National Council for Radio and Television´s Code of Conduct for News and Other Political Programs, as well as the Code of Journalistic Ethics, which are already in place, need to be revised in order to address current challenges and become a tool for the promotion of journalistic work.
- Protection of whistle-blowers: Law 2472/1997 attempts to address the above issue by stipulating that the processing of simple personal data of public figures by the media and their employees is based on a judgment about the necessity to satisfy the right to inform and to be informed that the processing actor seeks; in the case of more sensitive data, there must be an absolute necessity. In addition, according to the Law 4254/2014 article 45B there are provisions for the protection of whistle-blowers. The relevant EU directive needs to be incorporated in the national context.
Media Environment issues:
The media environment is the most critical factor that affects and limits the work of journalists and media organizations.
- Economic Model: Greece’s decade-long economic crisis has severely affected media organizations and their economic viability. The current economic model in relation with circulation decline, crisis in terms of sales, loss of profit, advertising expenditure etc. is not economically viable and thus results in dependency from funding either from the state or private individuals, aiming at using the media as a political influence tool. In addition, it does not allow important independent voices and initiatives to thrive. This element is highlighted also in the RSF report “The financial crisis of the last decade coupled with low readership figures and decreasing advertising budgets has put the long-term survival of many media outlets in question […]. The overwhelming majority of media is owned by a few individuals who are active also in other, highly-regulated business sectors.”
- Decline in trust: Despite the results of the 2019 Pew Research Institute Survey in 34 countries, where 89% of respondents in Greece (the highest score worldwide) said that it was very important that the media could report without government censorship, there is a major decline in trust towards journalists and media organisations. This decline results in a serious threat for journalists’ safety during their work as well as an explosive increase of threats against them. According to a recent survey by the Peace Journalism Lab, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, trust has hit a record low level, with only 15% of participants stating that they trusted the media.
- Journalists’ working conditions: As a result of the crisis regarding the economic viability of the media, loss of trust and years of deregulation in the media landscape, the working conditions of journalists have been deeply affected (salaries, benefits, social security etc). These conditions have been deteriorating, resulting in constant disdain of the profession, quality of information, independent journalism as well of press freedom in general.
A multilevel change is needed
In order to address the issues raised in the RSF report and in my article above, the Greek media landscape needs to undergo a multilevel change. The ability of journalists to report freely on matters of public interest is a crucial indicator of a democracy. Especially now, our democracies are under threat since “an increase in polarisation amplified by information chaos results in media polarisation fuelling divisions within countries”, which allows extremist voices to prevail. We cannot afford to allow – neither in Greece nor elsewhere in the world – a “Fox News model” to spread and further amplify divisions through the spread of disinformation. When media freedom is restricted, vital functions of democracies break down, leading to poor decision-making and harmful outcomes for leaders and citizens alike.
Nikos S. Panagiotou,
Peace Journalism Lab, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki