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Concerns Raised in Greece on World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day
Greek police. Credit: Facebook/ Greek Police

UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, commemorated every May 3, acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to freedom of the press. This basic freedom is still being compromised in Greece, according to the group Reporters without Borders (RSF).

Just weeks after a television crime reporter’s execution-style murder outside his home in Athens on April 30, there were deaths threats against another Greek journalist.

Kostas Vaxevanis, the owner of the Greek newspaper Documento, disclosed on April 24 that he believed he also was the target of someone who had put out a “murder contract” on his life.

Like the murdered television journalist, Vaxevanis had also investigated corruption and police in Greece, looking into what he said were “a group of criminals and police officers who were extorting money from nightclubs in exchange for protection.”

According to a report from Al Jazeera, Documento recently investigated another case of police corruption.

The president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called Kairavaz’ murder a “despicable, cowardly act” in a tweet, saying “Europe stands for freedom. And freedom of the press may be the most sacred of all.”

Sixty-two journalists killed for their work in 2020

Also, just as had happened with the murdered journalist, Vaxevanis had also recently reported on the decision to provide television presented Menios Fourthiotis with official police protection. The protection offer was withdrawn after outlets reported that the alleged threats against the presenter had been staged.

Fourthiotis was arrested last Tuesday, April 27, on a charge of criminal conspiracy, as he is suspected of links to the murder contract on Vaxevanius.

With these stories swirling in the Greek capital, Reporters Without Borders on Monday called on the Greek police to “take concrete steps to improve the safety of journalists and show them that they can rely on the police to protect them.”

The RSF charges that “Despite the Greek Prime Minister’s promise of a ‘swift investigation’ into Karaivaz’s murder, the authorities have so far simply established that it was linked to the organized crime circles about which he reportedly had sensitive information.”

According to the group, the Greek police have also identified the person who threatened him but have not linked that person to his eventual murder.

“It is essential that the Greek police show that they can be trusted and that journalists can rely on them for their protection,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk.

“A pre-condition for this is the swift identification of the perpetrators and instigators of the Giorgos Karaivaz murder. Thorough investigations must also be ordered into his and Kostas Vaxevanis’s revelations about corruption within the state apparatus, and the harassment of reporters in the field must end at once.”

Mistrust in police regarding corruption, arbitrary arrest, excessive force

The group noted on the International Day of Press Freedom that it wasn’t just the investigation into police corruption that is an issue; other issues are at play in Greece as well.

The organization said in its statement that a “recent increase in journalists’ mistrust of the Greek police has been fueled (by) not only corruption suspicions but also by the police violence and arbitrary arrests, to which reporters have been subjected while covering protests or stories linked to migrants.

“The Citizen Protection Minister’s adoption of new national guidelines for policing the streets has also fueled a widespread feeling that press freedom is under threat,” it added.

The RSF noted that Vaxevanis had stated “the last thing I would do would be to contact the police” when reporting that he was the target of a murder contract.

Greece’s Interior Minister, Makis Voridis, has confirmed taking measures for his protection, while Vaxevanis charges that he lives “in a corrupt state that cannot be trusted.”

Two Greek reporters killed in last eleven years

Reporters without Borders states that he is not the only journalist who believes the same thing. Other journalists contacted by the group after Karaivaz’ murder “made similar comments, and referred to ‘the lack of interest on the part of institutions in protecting journalists,'” according to today’s statement.

After being shot multiple times while outside his home in the suburbs of Athens by a man who reportedly was riding on the back of a motorcycle, Karaivaz became the second journalist to have been murdered in Greece in the past eleven years.

Another murder — still unsolved — is that of Socrates Giolias, who was a journalist investigating corruption at the time of his death. Giolias ran the privately-owned Radio Thema 98.9 FM, before he also was gunned down outside his home in July pf 2010.

Although a far-left group claimed responsibility for the murder, his killing remains unsolved to this day.

As of 2021, Greece is ranked a disturbing 70th out of a total of 180 countries around the world in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index, dropping five places from last year, a rating that the European Union considers “problematic.”

Other Greek journalists have complained that merely doing their jobs in reporting on the normal actions of government has become nearly impossible.

A report from Al Jazeera notes that Greek journalist Dimitra Kroustalli has said in January of 2021 she “had been forced to resign from her job at the To Vima newspaper after ‘strangling pressure’ from the Greek Prime Minister’s cabinet.”

The female journalist had been covering stories dealing with the problems that cropped up in government systems in the tracking and monitoring of COVID-19 cases.

In other disturbing revelations, after government grants totaling 20 million euros had been given to blogs and media outlets as a way to further the spread of information regarding Covid-19 last year, it was revealed in June that “some of the media outlets had no webpages.”

Stavros Malichudis, a freelance journalist based in Athens, told Al Jazeera that Kairavaz’ murder has put the nation into the crosshairs when it comes to freedom of the press.

“Until Karaivaz’s murder, Greece wasn’t considered as a country where journalists might be killed for doing their job. Press freedom, though, definitely has been an issue,” Malichudis told Al Jazeera.

“The coverage of public TV has always been in favour of the government, instead of the public it ought to serve. Journalists working for major media know there are specific topics they can’t even pitch a story about and large corporations seldom get covered in the press where only their adverts appear.

“Another issue is the restriction of coverage on refugees by the Greek government, which has already been criticized by media watchdogs,” Malichudis noted.

“Information as a Public Good” vital in coronavirus times

World Press Freedom Day is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics, according to UNESCO’s Director General, Audrey Azoulay.

Just as importantly, she states in an announcement released on Monday, “World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.

“The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, ‘Information as a Public Good,’ underlines the indisputable importance of verified and reliable information. It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content.”

The entire statement Azoulay issued today reads as follows:

“Thirty years ago today, journalists, editors and publishers from across Africa gathered to draft a call for press freedom, the “Declaration of Windhoek on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press”.

“This landmark Declaration aimed to make the free flow of information a public good – a goal which still resonates today. Since 1991, the information landscape has undergone tremendous changes, especially with the advent of the Internet and social media. We now have incredible opportunities to express ourselves, stay informed and connect with others.

“But we are also facing a rise in misinformation and hate speech, the upending of media business models and the concentration of power in the hands of just a few private companies.

“The pandemic has underlined the need for reliable information. It is independent journalism that has helped us make sense of this crisis. Journalists have reported from the field, even at great personal risk.

“Many have been threatened, detained, harassed – especially women. Sixty-two journalists were killed for their work in 2020, and many more lost their lives to COVID-19. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

“The pandemic has also exacerbated existing challenges, with numerous media now facing financial losses. The power of Internet platforms has been further entrenched, with lockdowns forcing much of daily life online. And false information and rumours have flourished, in some cases with fatal consequences.

“The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, ‘Information as a Public Good,’ underlines the indisputable importance of verified and reliable information. It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content.”

Greek police. Credit: Facebook/Greek Police

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