Greece’s journalists in 2016 - mice or men?
Is journalism and freedom of expression in Greece compromised by fear of the closure of media channels?
The Greek press went missing from a very important event that unfolded during the last weekend, leaving the public in the dark for two days. As a result, the journalists’ strike, yet again, proved to be very convenient for the government.
This raises a question: Is journalism and freedom of expression in Greece compromised by fear of the closure of media channels and the possible discontinuation of the press forced by the government?
On May 5, Greece’s Panhellenic Federation of Journalists’ Unions (POESY) announced that journalists are going to hold a 48-hour strike to protest against pension and tax reforms. Until recently, reporters and analysts used to go on strike a day before or after mass protests so that they are able to report on rallies and continue to inform the public.
The Syrizas-Anel coalition negotiations continued for 48 hours without any press coverage. During the talks, the government was aiming to push a new series of austerity measures through the parliament. It was aware of the public anxiety over rescue of whatever little was left of the Greek economy.
By the time the Greek press announced the end of strike, on May 8, the embattled government had already pushed the insurance and tax bills through parliament with the backing of its 153 MPs. The controversial bills, worth €5.4 billion in budget savings, were seen as the toughest reform the nation has been forced to enact since the beginning of its debt crisis.
At a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers, held on May 9, it was decided that a team of technical experts will examine how to reduce Greece’s debt burden, which is currently about 180 percent of its annual economic output. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chair of Eurozone finance ministers, said he hoped an agreement on Greek debt management could be found in talks scheduled for May 24.
This was not the first occasion when the Greek press could not fulfill its role of news dissemination.
Things seem to have escalated since early April, when the disciplinary board of the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA) temporarily suspended three journalists for supporting Greece’s signing of a bailout agreement with creditors following the infamous referendum of July 2015.
The journalists had openly criticized the government, which had at the time launched a campaign asking citizens to vote “No” to a possible deal with the creditors.
Moreover, all powers of the Independent Council for Radio and Television have been transferred to Minister of State, Nikos Pappas, who now also works as General Secretary of Information and Media.
Following the changes of the last two months, POESY members have been going on strike on days that are critical not only for the Greek government but also its people. Major events have taken place in the Greek parliament during these times, including voting on unpopular bills or proposals made to creditors.
These events could have triggered reactions from citizens – if, of course, they had come to know about it.