By Kostas Vaxevanis
June 26 2013
The editor facing trial for breaching Greek privacy laws speaks out about the state of press freedom in his country/
There’s quite some irony in the fact that events developing in Greece these past years, during the crisis and in the name of the crisis, are taking place in the country that gave birth to democracy. The coalition government is using the argument that the country is in a state of emergency to push through laws serving specific interest groups while constantly weakening the function of Parliament.
The government’s first victim is the press. Greece has witnessed the development of a system of private media that serves entwined political and corporate interests. In recent years, media corporations have been living on money given to them through scandalous loans from banks (which will, however, not give loans to healthy, productive businesses) and through the selective provision of advertisements. The fate and survival of media groups is thus inextricably linked to banks and related government policies.
Major scandals involving Greek banks, which were revealed by Reuters and The New York Times, were covered up by Greek media.
The Greek press turns out every day to be an organ of propaganda and vested interests. Its “good” behaviour is rewarded with State-sponsored ads, bank-sponsored ads and loans given without collateral. A newspaper selling 300 copies a day would absorb a yearly €1.5m in advertisements a few years ago – more than the advertising revenue of the country’s most circulated paper.
And of course, independent journalism is being punished. Uncovering the Lagarde list in the magazine I edit, HOT DOC, caused me to be immediately prosecuted. Even after I was found innocent, the Public Prosecutor annulled the court decision and ordered a re-trial. On 10 June, as the re-trial was due to begin, two of my lawyers and two of my witnesses could not be present for reasons beyond their control. The court insisted however that the trial not be deferred. In another room of the same building, the trial of a Golden Dawn member who is charged with attempted manslaughter against an immigrant was postponed for the eighth time.
The political system tries every day to pass off HOT DOC as a magazine that serves political purposes and is funded by either mysterious or specific donors. A rogue team of secret agents tried to eliminate me physically. The magazine revealed the details of this plan, with documents and interviews with some of the people involved. The Greek media didn’t write a single word about it.
Press freedom is defined by the surrounding climate. In Greece, this is a climate of corruption. The economic and financial establishment is doing whatever it wants in the country, while the political system not only turns a blind eye but even passes laws to protect illegal business activities. And the media, who participate actively in this framework of corruption, silence it all.
The result is that Greeks do not know what is happening in their own country. The media are presenting the difficult days of the crisis as the only way to go, and this government as the only government that can manage it. The dirty money of corrupt business tycoons is transferred to the coffers of political parties, and no one is punished. A special law on liability of ministers, that was passed by PASOK chairman Evangelos Venizelos, enables total impunity.
As I write these lines, HOT DOC is revealing that 214 indictment bills forwarded by the Public Prosecutor’s office to Parliament about likely illegal activities of ministers are being shelved until they fall under the statute of limitations. In this context, the fact that Greece is ranked 84th in terms of press freedom worldwide, behind dictatorial countries in Africa, is merely a statistical detail.