Less than two weeks after the murder of investigative journalist Giorgos Karaivaz, gunned down outside his Athens home, the press group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said media freedom in Greece is suffering, and seeing violence against journalists.
Greece was rated among the worst countries in the European Union – far more more than even those under authoritarian regimes such as Hungary which is openly trying to muzzle the media.
In a scathing report, RSF said Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ Conservative government is trying to censor and silence any critical media, which he had accused the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of trying to do.
The report said the Mitsotakis government gave big tax rebates on advertising in the media but used that to try to control reports on how he was handling the COVID-19 pandemic and refugee and migrant crisis.
“Investigative media and media critical of the government were either omitted or were given a disproportionately small share of the advertising resulting from a controversial 20-million-euro ($24 million) public information campaign about the virus,” the group said.
RSF also said that journalists had to get the government’s permission before reporting in hospitals while the Health Ministry banned medical staff from talking to the media as the pandemic worsened.
While Mitsotakis had been praised in March, 2020 for bringing an early lockdown that worked to temporarily hold down the spread of the Coronavirus, he has waffled since,leading SYRIZA to say he lost control.
In February this year, public TV channels were ordered not to broadcast video circulating on social media that showed him disobeying his own lockdown rules, the group alleged.
There were also scenes of police using violence and arbitrary bans to try to prevent coverage of what was happening in refugee and migrant camps on islands, according to the report, including a fire which destroyed the notorious Moria center on Lesbos, said to be set by a few refugees unhappy with COVID-19 rules.
A group of German freelancers were briefly arrested while trying to cover the arrival of new migrants and on the island of Samos, a German documentary film crew was detained without charge and mistreated by police, said RSF.
Greece’s public broadcaster ERT, which Mitsotakis complained while out of power was a propaganda station for SYRIZA, is unlawfully being controlled by him, said RSF, although the country’s highest court ruled that unconstitutional.
ERT, the group said, tried to censor reports on new migrant camps and the government has tried to control the narrative on how it is dealing with the unrelenting problem of refugees and migrants.
In Athens, police obstructed photo-journalists covering a commemorative event at the end of 2020 and roughed up a reporter for supposedly violating COVID-19 rules, briefly detaining him, the report went on.
RSF said there’s also concern about government rules requiring demonstrators to get police permission for protests, which also bring big fines for violations and limit reporters to designated areas for their coverage.
Mitsotakis had also been criticized for waiting nearly a day to comment on the murder of Karaivaz as some reports tied the killing to his coverage of organized crime but also for looking into the sex scandal of the former director of the National Theater, Dimitris Lignadis, hired by the government.
Reporters Without Borders says there has been a "dramatic deterioration" of press freedom since the pandemic tore across the world. Its new World Press Freedom Index evaluated the media in 180 countries and painted a stark picture. The group says in its annual report that 73% of nations have serious issues with media freedom. It says countries have used the pandemic "as grounds to block journalists access to information, sources and reporting in the field." The media watchdog says it is particularly true for governments in Asia, the Mideast and Europe.