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Why the Greek Media Is in Free Fall

Men at a newsstand
Men congregate at a newsstand in Athens. A convergence of factors, from austerity measures to Greece’s patronage system, have sent the Greek media into freefall in the last five years. © Louisa Gouliamaki/Getty

Greece stands at 91st place in the World Press Freedom Index for 2015, the second-lowest ranking for a country inside the European Union.

The country dropped 51 places in this ranking between 2009 and 2014, years when the Greek public needed the media more than ever to hold the government accountable as their rights and benefits were cut in the name of economic recovery. In this period, a number of journalists were brought to trial for their work, including Kostas Vaxevanis, who was prosecuted for releasing the 2,000 Greek names on the so-called Falciani List. Law enforcement officials have also attacked journalists with impunity during anti-austerity and other protests in major cities.

Alarmed by this situation, the Open Society Foundations asked researchers Petros Iosifidis and Dimitris Boucas to identify the most urgent problems facing media policy in Greece and how they affect independent journalism.

The findings were sobering. Their report shows that the country’s widespread patronage system has negatively impacted the press and silenced the voices of investigative journalists. The closure of Hellenic Radio Television (ERT), the country’s public broadcaster, substantially damaged pluralism in the Greek media landscape. And the economic crisis drastically reduced the income of private media outlets, forcing many journalists to accept vulnerable work conditions with low, delayed, or no pay.

The market continues to be controlled by a few powerful interests who dominate the national discussion through their newspapers, television stations, and online outlets, stifling the influence of voices and narratives outside the establishment.

Some independent voices have, however, managed to keep citizens informed. The journalists who were laid off from a left-leaning daily launched their own publication, the Editor’s Newspaper, a unique example of a paper owned by a journalists’ cooperative. Unfollow and the Press Project are two other new independent media outlets that have produced significant investigative journalism.

The new government in Greece has pledged to introduce legislation that will address the long-standing problems highlighted in this report. (Parliament made a start in April by voting to restore ERT as the national public broadcaster.) These efforts need to create an environment that protects journalists and their independence as the country strives to tackle the corruption and systemic failures that led to the economic, social, and political crisis.

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