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Greece: Media freedom under assault

Greece: Media freedom under assault

The media’s role in a democracy is to hold authority and government under check. In Greece, it appears to be increasingly the opposite way around.

In 2020, the Greek National Intelligence Service, which is directly overseen by the prime minister’s office, intercepted his communications while he was examining the issues of Greek bankers and businessmen, citing national security concerns. The government attempted to delete traces of the interception when the journalist became aware of it. His phone was infected with the Predator spyware not long after. The software grants complete access to a target’s phone, allowing the user to harvest data, contacts, and messages, including those received through encrypted apps, as well as turn on the microphone and access the camera.

Koukakis isn’t the only one whose communications have been intercepted by the National Intelligence Service. Iliana Papangeli and Stavros Malichudis of Solomon, a team of investigative journalists examining migrant conditions in Greece, revealed that they had been under observation by Greek security agencies, which tracked their work with kids on the island of Kos.

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Soon after learning of the Secret Service’s interest in their reporting, the two broke yet another story, this time regarding a migrant housing NGO with apparent ties to politicians. What was the reaction? SLAPPING (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

In another case, a gold mine executive convicted of significant environmental offenses in northern Greece sued Stavroula Poulimeni, a member of the AlterThess journalism cooperative. By reporting on his former criminal conviction, the businessman accused her of processing his “sensitive personal data.”

Such legal gambits appear to be approved by the government. A new law allows the National Council for Radio and Television (NCRTV) to levy slander fines on media on a recurring basis. The NCRTV is in charge of channels that use public frequencies. The Athens Daily Newspaper Journalists’ Union is concerned, claiming that the new legislation clearly contradicts sections of the Greek Constitution relating to press freedom.

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When the firm that publishes the newspaper fails to pay, the fines will be claimed by the majority owners and collected by Argos, a private monopoly distributor owned by a government-friendly media magnate. According to the journalist union, the new rule jeopardizes the viability of the media, particularly smaller, independent outlets.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response, a body that monitors press freedom in the European community, issued a similar warning. According to a recent assessment, “challenges to the independence of the media and the safety of journalists are systemic in Greece.”

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It claims that news that is inconvenient to the administration, such as investigations into grave human rights crimes, is underreported. This creates a huge barrier to citizens’ access to information and, as a result, informed engagement in the democratic process.

Human rights breaches perpetrated during the implementation of the MFRR immigration policy, as well as the humanitarian crisis that the migrant stream has generated, are very sensitive concerns for the administration, according to the policy. When journalists strive to report on these themes, they confront obstacles like arbitrary arrest and detention, restricted access to migratory hotspots, surveillance, and harassment. Even when independent journalists rely on government information, they are met with a complete lack of transparency, if not outright refusal, to disclose information.

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