George N. Tzogopoulos
(Political and Media Analyst, Author of the Books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (I.B.TAURIS, 2012) and The Greek Crisis in the Media (Ashgate, 2013).
A lot of research has already been conducted on the media landscape in South-East Europe. Within this context the case of Greece has been naturally examined. In the most recent example Freedom House has published a report which is not particularly honouring for the county. The main conclusion drawn is that Greece has declined from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’. There are two specific reasons which explain this relegation. The first is the increasingly hostile legal, political and economic environment for the press. And the second is the closure of media outlets as a consequence of the continuing financial crisis often influencing accurate reporting about the country’s political and economic situation.
The report of Freedom House offers a fair analysis and gives examples regarding the personal safety of journalists. Emphasis, for instance, is laid on the impact of the Golden Dawn’s presence in Greek politics on the freedom of expression. Attention is also turned towards violent attacks against journalists of various media organisations. As a matter of fact, during 2012 and the first months of 2013, Greece has a disappointing record of assaults, including not only the ones covering politics, economics and developments in the society but also sports,. There is no question that democracy is suffering a serious blow when freedom of expression cannot be practically guaranteed.
In parallel with this, the survival of many media organisations has been put into risk since October 2009 indeed. Unable to benefit from a large amount of subsidies as well as of advertisements of Greek ministries and state-owned enterprises - in comparison to the pre-crisis period-, various outlets have either closed down or continuously face the danger of bankruptcy. As a result the main priority for the majority of journalists has acquired a new dimension. This is not necessarily their will to follow the norms of professional and quality journalism but to continue being employed at any cost in a time of crisis. On these grounds, they can hardly resist pressure from editors and media owners in their work. Exceptions do certainly exist but the general tendency can be better outlined as such.
Nonetheless, there is one significant aspect the Freedom House report does not touches upon. Important as it is the focus on external factors, as for instance the legal, political and economic environment and the impact of the financial crisis, can hardly give a broad and comprehensive overview of the situation in Greece. Journalists themselves and media owners should take part of the responsibility for the poor conditions of the country’s landscape. The personal relationship and often economic co-operation of many of them to status quo politicians has almost eliminated hopes for transparency and objectivity. A cable sent by the US Embassy in Athens and revealed in WikiLeaks gives the American perception on the modus operandi of the Greek press. It, for example, deals with the term ‘interwoven interests’ which ‘refers specifically and exclusively to the web of relationships among the media, business, and government.’ The same cable also asserts that ‘it is not unusual for a journalist to work in a ministry press even while covering the beat that includes that ministry’
Even if the day-to-day work of journalists is examined, criticism is also justified. For the majority of Greek journalists, the ‘crisis frame’ had not been on the agenda until October 2009. A comparison of the coverage of former Prime Minister George Papandreou before and after the national elections of that month leads to shocking observations concerning the manipulation of public opinion. Although Mr Papandreou had been initially portrayed a hero in an important part of the media discourse, he was treated ironically and considered as almost exclusively responsible for the unbearable bailout terms a few months later. Furthermore, for most journalists the crisis only relates to the policy of austerity and is not regarded a great opportunity which can possibly help the country to reform from within.
It is not a coincidence that according to opinion polls the confidence of Greek citizens in domestic media is rather limited. The internet has offered a useful platform for the development of various news sites and blogs providing different channels of information. But even in this case the Greek authorities have been so far unable to effectively tackle the problem of anonymity. A web-chaos has thus been created. The drama of the Greek media landscape is going on while perspectives for the future are not promising.