GREECE: Press freedom under threat by government attempts to limit criticism
30 Oct 2012
ARTICLE 19 is concerned about recent attacks on freedom of expression in Greece. At a time of economic crisis and political instability, the Greek authorities are attempting to increase control over the media and to limit criticism of the government. ARTICLE 19 views such attempts as a direct attack on democracy which must not be tolerated. It is not an appropriate response for a democratic European government to limit press freedom in order to protect political power.
Sanctions against 3 journalists in recent days present clear signs of attempts by the authorities to control the media.
Broadcasters suspended after criticising minister:
ARTICLE 19 finds it outrageous that two journalists were suspended yesterday (Monday, 29 October) for criticising a minister. Marilena Katsimi and Kostas Arvanitis have been dropped as presenters from the morning magazine programme on the state broadcaster ETR after discussing the reaction of the Public Order Minister to claims about the police torturing anti-fascist demonstrators.
Katsimi and Arvanitis were questioning the attitude of the minister. ARTICLE 19 points out that in democratic states, politicians must be tolerant and open to criticism. That is particularly true when a matter concerns an issue of great public importance, such as the claims in this case - that activists had been tortured. The journalists did not doubt the capacity of the legal system to investigate the matter. They were merely making a comment about the minister’s attitude to the matter. This is a standard practice and it is the role of the media to raise such issues.
Suspending the presenters immediately violated standards on freedom of expression. Even if concerns that ethical journalistic standards were violated, a breach of this nature would not warrant such a severe sanction as immediate suspension.
“These dismissals send out a dangerous message to other journalists, who might now be cautious about criticising the government for fear that they will face reprisal themselves. The suspension of the presenters could give way to self censorship by other journalists” said Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Greek authorities to refrain from muzzling the voice of the media and violating the right to freedom of expression. The media must be allowed to criticise the government. Public scrutiny is a vital part of democracy.
Magazine editor charged after publishing “rich list”:
Kostas Vaxevanis , the editor of an investigative magazine Hot Docs went on trial on Monday for allegedly breaching the privacy of several individuals by publishing a list of wealthy Greeks that the government has yet to investigate for possible tax evasion. It is reported that this is a list that the government has been aware of for two years without taking any action. It is claimed that the list was originally leaked by a bank employee and handed over by the then French finance minister Christine Lagarde to Greek authorities in 2010.
ARTICLE 19 finds that Vaxevanis was acting in the public interest in publishing this list. Against the backdrop of the financial crisis – it is absolutely relevant that this information be made public; the existence of the list and its contents should be considered as a matter for public debate.
In the absence of any action from the government for two years, it was in public interest to publish the list to ensure that this information was not neglected and that the matter is given proper attention. Publication was the reasonable thing to do in the situation.
ARTICLE believes that the Greek government ought to be responding to the information rather than punishing the person who brought it to public attention.
“A government is supposed to serve its people. The role of a free media is to act as a watchdog for democracy. It is the responsibility of the press to publish information which is in the public interest and to scrutinise the operation of the state. We must not allow censorship to stop the truth emerging or repress ideas. This is an inexcusable attack on freedom of expression” said Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.
“The financial crisis and the political situation in Greece must not be used as an excuse for censorship. It is vital that in times of crisis, the media is allowed to operate freely; that information of critical public importance is given serious consideration, so that people can make informed decisions” she added.
Imposing restrictions to fundamental human rights must not be tolerated. ARTICLE 19 stands together with those who stand up to protect these rights.