ATHENS – A European Parliament committee visiting Greece – in the aftermath of a train tragedy that killed 57 – left saying that the rule of law and media freedom is at risk and that it found problems in the justice system.
The mission of the Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) didn’t include representatives of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) to which Greece’s New Democracy Conservative government belongs.
Government officials declined to meet the EU panel members and the EPP pulled out earlier because the visit coincided with Greece trying to deal with mourning the loss of life while protests developed.
“Although Greece has a solid institutional and legal framework, vibrant civil society and independent media, the delegation notes that there are very serious threats to the rule of law and fundamental rights,” the panel chief, Dutch MEP told reporters in the Greek capital, said EURACTIV.
The government also scheduled a news conference – infrequent in Greece – at the same time, over the train tragedy, the site saying that critics it didn’t name claim it was deliberate to hold down coverage.
She said while there are smaller independent media sites that oligarchs control the mainstream media, much of which has political affiliations that leads to stories either not being covered or buried, such as the failures in rail safety.
She had been on an earlier EU Parliament mission investigating a surveillance scandal in Greece after the National Intelligence Service EYP admitted bugging the phones of 15,475 people and reports of Predator spyware being used in the country, the government denying it was behind it.
She said the concentration of major media in the hands of the rich, with intertwining of interests with governments, “negatively impacts media freedom and pluralism resulting in sometimes dramatic underreporting of certain topics,” the report also added.
STOP THE PRESS
According to the World Press Freedom Index for 2022, Greece ranked the worst among the 27 EU member states despite Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisting there is a free and robust media.
The delegation also noted the use of spyware against journalists which prevents them from doing their job and fearing they are being monitored, the government banning the sale of the software after the discovery it was in use.
In ‘t Veld also said many journalists had reported physical threats or verbal attacks and the members again pointed to the April 2021 murder of investigative journalist Giorgos Karaivaz still unsolved.
“Nearly two years after the murder of Giorgos Karaivaz, there is no visible progress in the police investigation. Not only is this unjust to his family but sends the message that safety of journalists is not a priority for the government,” in ‘t Veld said about the case lagging.
“The case must be investigated without further delay and the delegation asks the authorities to request the assistance of Europol,” she added, but there’s been no response from the government or police.
“Scrutiny by dedicated justice is extremely slow and ineffective leading to a culture of impunity,” In ‘t Veld said, adding that independent authorities are “under huge pressure,” and political meddling in their work.
Earlier, the site said, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders expressed worry over the process of appointing the Greek Supreme Court prosecutor and that, “as already pointed out in the 2022 Rule of Law Report, that the current system of appointments in the highest positions of the judiciary raises concerns as being subject to a potentially strong influence from the executive,” Reynders said.
In December 2022 the site also reported that the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) was being impeded by the high court prosecutor in trying to audit phone records to check for bugging.