Webinar: Media and Press Freedom in Greece
The report of Reporters without Borders (RSF) for 2022 ranks Greece in 108th position out of 180 countries. Undoubtedly, these results are disappointing for the Greek media and how they operate, however it is not surprising, following the developments of recent years. In this context, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Greece and Cyprus, in collaboration with the Laboratory of Peace Journalism of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Digital Communication Network Global (DCN), organized an online seminar entitled "Media and Press Freedom in Greece" on Wednesday 25 May 2022.
The discussion was split into two sections. Initially, Martin Kothé, Regional Director for Eastern / Southeast Europe and Project Director for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Greece, addressed a welcoming speech for the participants, referring to the aspects of the topic. In particular, Mr. Kothé analyzed the overall phenomena of media freedom in Europe, and particularly, the Greek setback over the last years, emphasizing that this discouraging image is not exclusively Greek phenomenon. He explicitly stated, that the situation has worsened even in Germany, as employed positions in the media business have fallen substantially, while journalists are being asked to cover a broader range of news and on more platforms, as the Social Media component has now entered the picture.
RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index
In the 1st part of the discussion, Pavol Szalai, the representative of RSF and Head of the Balkan/ Europe Desk lead the discussion, by presenting the major finding of the report not only for Greece but also worldwide. More precisely, he referred to a series of arguments for the reasons behind Greece’s fall in the ranking. Those arguments focused on:
- Killing of George Karajavas
- treat to the life of journalist, injuries and pressure
- The criminalization of fake news law
- police violence
- unfair distribution of public funds (Petsa’s list)
- lack of independence of public media
Nevertheless, the fundamental reason, according to Szalai, is the media's dismal economic situation, which is linked to the massive concentration of audiovisual media in the hands of entrepreneurs who, in most cases, use their medium to promote other interests. Finally, the particular polarization and fragmentation of the independent media were mentioned.
It is worth mentioning that except for the main reasons, Mr. Szalai underlined that these negative results were the outcome of the strong international commitments from the Greek government to protect media freedom, but there is a huge gap between these international commitments and rhetoric of the government and the actual situation on the ground.
In regard to, the Greek government’s criticism of the RSF’s methodology and credibility, Szalai distinctively said
The good news here is that finally, press freedom is an issue for the Greek government. The government can make some moves towards supporting press freedom and we are happy to help with our international expertise. RSF’s index is an index to rank and compare the performance of countries and not of governments.
Challenges and Pathogenies of Journalism in Greece
In our second panel the speakers were: Nikos Panagiotou, Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and Head of DCN Global, Christos Frangonikolopoulos, Professor of International Relations and Mass Media at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Aristotle University. He is the holder of the Jean Monnet Chair on European Integration (2016-2019, 2020-2023) and Director of the MA in Digital Media, Communication and Journalism, Vlasis Vlasidis, Associate Professor in the Department of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies in University of Macedonia, majoring of contemporary Balkan history, Communication and Media in the Balkan region, and lastly Spyros Moskovou director of the Greek Department of Deutsche Welle.
In addition to the discussion for RSF’s report, in that panel emphasis has been given to a more holistic presentation and analysis of the Greek media environment and the issues that journalists have to deal with in Greece. In the beginning of the discussion, Panagiotou set the framework of the discussion, saying that through the report the issues and problems of journalists were put into the spotlight rather in a negative way. In particular, these problems concern the legal framework, as more emphasis needs to be given to the way and conditions under which journalists work. Freedom of the press can in no way be guaranteed if the media continues to be dependent on public or private funding. In this way, their role is circumvented until they have secured their autonomy.
Respectively, Moskovou stated that "The report was used by the Greek parties. "Few journalists have searched the methodology and the criteria of the report. They only focused on blaming ND and SYRIZA respectively."
A series of factors for the Greek setback has been analyzed by Christos Frangonikolopoulos. As he argued, the economic crisis as well as a series of other crises that have followed the upcoming years, had a significant negative impact on the quality and independence of Greek Media. During that period, the situation and the media environment changed significantly. A considerable big number of Media outlets disappeared, while new media outlets with new owners emerged, which reinforce the dominant political narrative. Furthermore, he issued the lack of trust that traditionally exists in our country and the polarization, combined with the growing dependence and use of social media regarding the source of information. Therefore, journalistic standards and models that have been created over the years, make it difficult for journalists to disengage from them.
Arguably, the latest developments and the war in Ukraine were also part of the discussion, in order to trace the pathogenies of the Greek media. Precisely, prof. Vlasidis referred to the way in which Greek journalists present the events taking place in Ukraine, doubting the objectivity of journalism.
“I am wondering if the events are presented objectively or in such a way to lead our audience towards political incentives of the Alliance or the Greek government. Probably the second. "
A necessary change in the media environment
In the end of the webinar, the experts proposed some suitable and needed alterations in order to actually have a change in the media environment. Those proposals are:
- Formation of a new legislative framework with the overall contribution of the political parties and the respective organizations
- formation of the so-called "scientist journalist" and the promotion of analytical and critical thinking
- Journalists should focus on data and logic and now on dramatization and emotions
- Change in journalists’ education and culture
As Martin Kothé has highlighted in the welcoming speech, the key question that we need to ask ourselves is how much money are we willing to be spending for democracy every day, because “Cheap journalism will lead to cheap democracy.”