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Greece: a blow to democracy and press freedom

Without warning the Greek government closed down the public radio station ERT on 11 June 2013. Transmission ceased shortly after 11 pm. The Samara government described ERT as "an incredible example of money-squandering", leading observers to hold the austerity policy of the Troika responsible for the closure. Greek and foreign media condemned the move as a severe blow to press freedom.

Protests against ERT's closure.
(© picture-alliance/dpa)

This is just one example of the damage done to the media by the Greek debt crisis. Newspaper sales have fallen sharply and several have had to close since the crisis began in 2010. Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs and have gone on working either unpaid or for very low wages. Many newspapers and media concerns are mired in debt.

Press freedom has also been eroded by the crisis. Journalists from several of the media organisations that supported the reform course forced on Greece by its creditors were fired under the Samara government and it became dangerous to criticise the austerity measures. The journalist and publisher of the magazine Hot Doc, Kostas Vaxevanis, was placed under temporary arrest in 2012 accused of violating the data protection law. He had published a list of names of 2,059 alleged tax evaders. Greece slid a long way down the Press Freedom Index during the debt crisis. Among EU members, only Bulgaria has received a worse ranking from Reporters without Borders. The US-NGO Freedom House now describes the Greek press as only "partly free".

The media market is characterised by a high level of concentration. Print, TV and multi-media services are concentrated in the hands of a few concerns and individuals, for example the Lambrakis press group or Giorgos Bobolas. The major opinion-forming dailies have existed since the mid-twentieth century and are affiliated more with political camps than actual parties.

Since the left-wing alliance Syriza under Alexis Tsipras came to power in 2015, formerly Syriza-critical newspapers such as Ta Nea or To Vima have tended to support the new government. A similar trend can be observed among private television broadcasters. Whether the Tsipras government will deprive the media oligarchs of their power, as he promised in his election campaign, remains to be seen.

Breakfast television and news are the main source of information for most Greeks. A new public radio station called Nerit (New Greek Radio, Internet and Television) went on air at the beginning of May 2014. At the same time, the journalists who lost their jobs after the closure of ERT are operating the protest station ERT Open via the Internet. The Tsipras government has announced its intention to reopen ERT.

The significance of alternative, critical media, often with close links to left-wing parties, has increased sharply during the economic crisis. Several online portals have been launched but also new journalistic projects like Efimerida ton Syntakton. A number of former editors of Eleftherotypia used their own money to start the paper. They all receive the same salary.

Press Freedom Index:

Reporters without Borders: 91st place (2015)
Freedom House: 92nd place (2014)

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