In a democracy, the media ought to preserve authority and authorities in verify. In Greece, it feels increasingly more that it really works the opposite approach round.
Take the story of Thanasis Koukakis, a 43-year-old monetary journalist who works for CNN Greece, and contributes to CNBC, the Monetary Occasions and the Greek investigative outlet Inside Story. Citing nationwide safety considerations, in 2020 the Greek Nationwide Intelligence Service instantly administered by the prime minister’s workplace, intercepted his communications, whereas he was investigating the affairs of Greek bankers and businessmen. When the journalist turned conscious of this, the federal government tried to erase traces of the interception. Shortly after, his cell phone was contaminated with the Predator spy ware. The software program permits the person to achieve full entry to a goal’s telephone to extract knowledge, contacts, and messages, together with these despatched by means of encrypted functions, in addition to activate the microphone and entry the digicam.
Koukakis shouldn’t be the one sufferer of interception by the Nationwide Intelligence Service. Reporters of Solomon, a group of investigative journalists researching migrant situations in Greece, Iliana Papangeli, and Stavros Malichudis additionally found that they’d been subjected to surveillance by the Greek intelligence companies, which monitored their work with minors on the island of Kos.
Quickly after the pair found the Secret Service’s curiosity of their reporting, they broke one other story, about an NGO coping with migrant housing that had attainable ties to political figures. The response? A SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit In opposition to Public Participation).
In one other occasion, Stavroula Poulimeni, a member of a journalist cooperative known as AlterThess, was sued by a gold mining govt convicted of significant environmental crimes in northern Greece. The businessman accused her of processing his “delicate private knowledge” by reporting on his prior legal conviction.
The federal government appears to approve of such authorized gambits. A brand new legislation authorises the Nationwide Council for Radio and Tv (NCRTV) to impose recurrent administrative fines on newspapers for slander. The NCRTV has jurisdiction over channels utilizing public frequencies. This alarms the Athens Each day Newspaper Journalists’ Union, which claims that the brand new regulation instantly violates articles involving press freedom underneath the Greek Structure.
Underneath this legislation, the fines can be claimed by the bulk shareholders when the corporate that publishes the newspaper fails to pay and can be collected by the non-public monopoly distributor of Argos, owned by a government-friendly media mogul. The journalist union argues that the brand new rule threatens the viability of the media, particularly the smaller, impartial ones.
An identical alarm was voiced by the Media Freedom Speedy Response, a bunch that screens press freedom within the European neighborhood. “Challenges to the independence of the media and the security of journalists are systemic in Greece,” asserted a current report.
It argues that information that’s inconvenient for the federal government, together with probes into critical human rights violations, doesn’t get broadly reported. This causes a major impediment to the general public’s entry to info and, subsequently, their knowledgeable participation within the democratic course of.
Based on the MFRR immigration coverage, human rights violations dedicated in its implementation, and the humanitarian disaster that the migrant stream has created are extremely delicate matters for the federal government. Journalists face obstructions together with arbitrary arrest and detention, restriction of entry to migration hotspots, surveillance and harassment once they attempt to report on these matters. And even when impartial journalists depend on official info, they face an entire lack of transparency and even denial to offer info.
Going after the messenger: the instances of Vaxevanis and Papadakou
In January, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis survived a no-confidence vote tabled in parliament by the left-wing opposition over the federal government’s dealing with of a snowstorm that paralysed the nation. In a speech to parliament, Mitsotakis referred to the journalists who disclosed the Novartis corruption scandal in Greece as a “gang” who’re “free to train character assassination” – a time period interpreted as an easy try and affect the judiciary.
Prosecutors had summoned Kostas Vaxevanis, the editor of the publication Documento, and Yianna Papadakou, a former tv presenter, to Athens’ Supreme Court docket a couple of days earlier. They charged the 2 journalists with crimes linked to their reporting about authorities officers, together with ex-ministers, who allegedly accepted bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to be able to management the pricing of particular medication.
The accused politicians have rejected the costs, claiming they’re politically motivated. That is even if the US Division of Justice in 2020 imposed a $347m wonderful on Novartis, because of the case. Whereas it didn’t disclose any names, the corporate admitted to creating unlawful funds to Greek suppliers.
The anti-corruption prosecutor’s probe, which started in 2016, closed the case towards two Greek lawmakers in January. A second inquiry, nonetheless, is continuous in Greece, wanting into an alleged frame-up involving a former minister, the corruption prosecutors who probed the Novartis case, and the 2 journalists.
Participation in a legal group, collaboration in wrongdoing and two counts of complicity within the misuse of authority are among the many allegations levelled towards the journalists. Based on a brand new provision of the penal code permitted solely weeks in the past, minor offences associated to a “legal group” will now end in precise jail sentences.
In different phrases, Papadakou and Vaxevanis, who reported extensively on the Novartis scandal, might see jail time. Such prosecution successfully might create a troubling precedent. It additionally raises considerations about whether or not whistleblower witnesses within the case towards Novartis will proceed to be thought of credible, or whether or not they are going to be charged as effectively.
It’s price noting that Greece was one in all 17 European international locations that failed to include a brand new directive on the safety of whistleblowers of their authorized programs and is now coming underneath stress. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the burden by lowering journalists’ rights to entry info.
Reporters With out Borders final yr ranked Greece seventieth in its world index of press freedom, 5 positions decrease than in 2020. The nation’s standing has declined steadily over the earlier decade, a pattern that’s prone to proceed, judging from current occasions.
The federal government fiercely denies these accusations, stressing that pluralism is granted within the nation. However democracy is safeguarded when the press is free to talk reality to energy. That shouldn’t be the job of the courts to outline and resolve.
Vera Jourova, the EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency, overtly warned that “the 2022 Rule of Legislation Report pays specific consideration to developments pertaining to the press freedom and the security of journalists”.
These considerations have develop into notably worrying within the case of the homicide of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, outdoors his house a yr in the past. Regardless of stress from Greek and European journalists’ associations, there was little progress within the case and people accountable haven’t been dropped at justice.
Even conservative politicians are actually elevating considerations about press freedom within the nation, suggesting, what many people are afraid of, that the conservative Greek authorities has been seduced by the populist conservative flip of nations throughout Europe, and not strives to be a part of the so-called average liberal conservative milieu.
The pattern in Greece is indicative of the broader stress rising in some EU international locations across the rule of legislation and the safety of freedoms – the core values of the EU. However the state of affairs in Greece is changing into notably grim with regard to issues of the press as issues accumulate, steadily attracting the curiosity of extra media freedom watchdogs. Seven teams, together with Reporters With out Borders and the European Federation of Journalists are actually elevating “critical considerations” in regards to the case of Koukakis. The Greek authorities ought to do extra to guard press freedom.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
Leave a Reply