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European Federation of Journalists chief slams press freedom in Greece

Lack of trust, economic instability, and spying on journalists all make the press environment in Greece disturbing and challenging, the President of the European Federation of Journalists, Maja Sever told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

EURACTIV.gr spoke to Sever after the Samothrace Conference organised by the Athens Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers. Participants, including Greek and foreign journalists, discussed the threats to press freedom in Europe and Greece.

“At the conference, we witnessed attacks by government representatives on the reporters because of Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) findings, as well as distrust in the relevance of the MFRR report.

“But the facts remain clear, like the one where the murder of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz drew international attention to significant problems with the safety of journalists. Media organisations have repeatedly warned that the progress of the investigation is slow and lacks essential transparency, which has a chilling effect,” Sever, a well-respected Croatian journalist, pointed out.

Karaivaz, an investigative reporter and prominent crime journalist, was shot dead by two gunmen in front of his home in Athens on 9 April 2021. At the time, Karaivaz was investigating the raging mafia war in Athens. To date, there has been no justice in bringing the killers or masterminds to justice.

“Journalists are also facing problems reporting about migration policy, related human rights violations of the emigrants. It has become increasingly difficult for journalists to report as they face obstructions, including detention, restriction of access to migration hotspots, surveillance, and harassment,” said Sever.

“Journalists face aggression and harassment from the police and protesters without the political will to ensure their safety when reporting from protests”, Sever added.

At the Samothrace Conference panel, the Greek government was represented by Migration Deputy Minister Sofia Voultepsi. “Namely, the arguments and explanations of the government representatives were attacks and accusations of journalists. The data speaks for itself” Sever pointed out.

Regarding the use of spyware in Greece, Sever said, “the current events of espionage and Pegasus are indeed unbelievable”.

“Ultimately, after the scandal has erupted, and the discovery of spying on journalists, the government announced they would change the legal framework and correct the surveillance system,” Severa also said.

“It is really challenging for journalists to work in such a difficult atmosphere, while at the same time, the overall situation in journalism and the media is getting harder and harder,” she said, noting the “deep mistrust” of journalists in the country.

Yet, spyware and SLAPPs are not the only issues Greek journalists face.

“I was particularly struck when they explained their economic position. It is so bad that they are forced to work several jobs. Many of them have lost their jobs and find it challenging to find time to fight for the freedom of journalism,” said Sever.

“All of these are hard-working, talented journalists who, in addition to the struggle for survival, are faced with evident hostility from politicians, possible spying, and attacks,” said Sever, adding that “many of them are under the brunt of SLAPP lawsuits.”

The report concluded that there had been a deterioration in media freedom since the electoral victory of Neo Dimokratia in 2019, which is ‘obsessed with controlling the message’ and by minimising critical and dissenting voices.

In 2021, Greece was ranked 108th on media freedom according to the Reporters Without Borders ranking, according to which Greece fell 38 places, making it have the worst performance ever in the EU.

“I am afraid the situation is not improving,” Sever told EURACTIV.gr.

The European Commission, in its report on the rule of law for 2022, reiterated significant concerns and recommended that Greece should ‘establish legislative and other protective measures to improve the physical safety and working environment of journalists’.

“These are the facts. I had a lot of contacts and discussions with journalists during the conference in Samothrace; I concluded the situation was quite disturbing and challenging. I promised that EFJ will help and provide all the support to Greek colleagues,” Sever added.

Source : Euractiv