[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”96965″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”https://mappingmediafreedom.org/#/”][vc_column_text]Despite an ongoing trial that has sapped its popular appeal, members of the Greek press are still under pressure from neo-Nazi, far-right organisation Golden Dawn. Journalists have been targeted with libel charges and physical violence.
Two journalists working for the Ethnos newspaper, Maria Psara and Lefteris Bidelas, who revealed criminal activity associated with Golden Dawn, are facing a lawsuit demanding €300,000 ($352,377). The next hearing in the case, which was filed by Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris, is scheduled for 14 December 2017.
“[Golden Dawn] are seeking our moral and economic extermination. They want us to stop writing,” Psara told Index on Censorship’s project Mapping Media Freedom, explaining that due to delays in the Greek legal system, these procedures normally may last for years, obliging journalists to spend days in courts.
The case stems from a physical assault on New Democracy MP Giorgos Koumoutsakos, which took place during a November 2015 protest in Athens, Psara and Bidelas explain. The perpetrators of the violence were allegedly a group of far-right supporters. In a news article about the incident, journalists Psara and Bidelas published an information coming from Koumoutsakos, that an eyewitness had called his office on that evening and had stated that he had heard the Kasidiaris tell a man to attack Koumoutsakos. Further, according to the account, the witness said that Kasidiaris shouted “Finish! Finish!” to the group as they were assaulting Koumoutsakos.
According to Psara and Bidelas, they published what Koumoutsakos told them about the incident during a conference call with the CEO of the newspaper, following his report to the police. Kasidiaris denied the allegations and filed a libel suit, naming the journalists and the CEO of the newspaper as defendants.
Psara and Bidelas told MMF that this is not the first time that far-right supporters have targeted them. Around ten lawsuits have been filed against them in criminal and civil courts. In another ongoing libel case against them a Greek police commander sued the journalists for publishing a September 2014 photograph of the officer sieg heiling in front of a Nazi train at the Nuremberg Transportation Museum. The journalists were found guilty in a civil case and charged with a fine of €3,000 ($3,525) each. An appeal is scheduled for February 2018.
“I began to cover Golden Dawn in 2012 when its chief, Nikos Michaloliakos was elected a municipal councilor in the City of Athens,” Psara says, adding that the first time Golden Dawn reacted to a story of hers was in 2013. “It was a story about Golden Dawn members assaulting the actors of a play called Jesus Christ Super Star.”
The targeting of Bidelas began after the murder of the anti-fascist rapper Nikos Fyssas in 2013. Following an investigation into the murder, Michaloliakos along with several other Golden Dawn MPs and members were arrested and held in pre-trial detention on suspicion of forming a criminal organisation. The trial began on 20 April 2015 and is still ongoing.
At the time, Psara and Bidelas published articles that revealed the structure of Golden Dawn as well as the group’s racist and violent activities. Among their sources were ex-Golden Dawn members, which annoyed the organisation’s leadership. “They were calling at the newspaper to complain and insult us. Sometimes they even threatened us,” Bidelas says.
Golden Dawn’s popularity grew in the aftermath of the Greek financial crisis and the backlash created by the refugee crisis that swept Europe. The party managed to enter the Greek Parliament in 2012 with 21 seats, which emboldened them to openly attack the entire political system. Journalists became one of their main targets.
“Fear is a key element in the Golden Dawn ideology,” Psara told MMF. “They have attacked journalists physically, including during protests, as well taking legal action against them. The aim was to instil fear and stop any negative reports. In other words, they were abusing justice in order to serve their political interests.”
Over the last two years, examples of physical assaults against journalists and photographers have not been in short supply, as recorded by Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project. Journalists covering the refugee crisis often fell victim to far-right attacks. In response to these co-ordinated attacks, many journalists began to develop a common front against Golden Dawn.
“We had the absolute support of the newspaper and, when we made public the threats we were receiving, the support of our Union (ESIEA),” Bidelas says. “The support of individual colleagues was also touching.”
“We are definitely not the only ones in this. Many other journalists who dared to reveal the real face of Golden Dawn have become targets,” Psara says. “But what must be stressed it that we won’t bow to this pressure.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Mapping Media Freedom” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-times-circle” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]
Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents and partners have recorded and verified more than 3,700 violations against journalists and media outlets.
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As Greece tries to deal with around 50,000 stranded refugees on its soil after Austria and the western Balkan countries closed their borders, attention has turned to the living conditions inside the refugee camps. Throughout the crisis, the Greek and international press has faced major difficulties in covering the crisis.
“It’s clear that the government does not want the press to be present when a policeman assaults migrants,” Marios Lolos, press photographer and head of the Union of Press Photographers of Greece said in an interview with Index on Censorship. “When the police are forced to suppress a revolt of the migrants, they don’t want us to be there and take pictures.”
Last summer, Greece had just emerged from a long and painful period of negotiations with its international creditors only to end up with a third bailout programme against the backdrop of closed banks and steep indebtedness. At the same time, hundreds of refugees were arriving every day to the Greek islands such as Chios, Kos and Lesvos. It was around this time that the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, started putting pressure on Greece to build appropriate refugee centres and prevent this massive influx from heading to the more prosperous northern countries.
It took some months, several EU Summits, threats to kick Greece out of the EU free movement zone, the abrupt closure of the internal borders and a controversial agreement between the EU and Turkey to finally stem migrant influx to Greek islands. The Greek authorities are now struggling to act on their commitments to their EU partners and at the same time protect themselves from negative coverage.
Although there were some incidents of press limitations during the first phase of the crisis in the islands, Lolos says that the most egregious curbs on the press occurred while the Greek authorities were evacuating the military area of Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia.
In May 2016, the Greek police launched a major operation to evict more than 8,000 refugees and migrants bottlenecked at a makeshift Idomeni camp since the closure of the borders. The police blocked the press from covering the operation.
“Only the photographer of the state-owned press agency ANA and the TV crew of the public TV channel ERT were allowed to be there,” Lolos said, while the Union’s official statement denounced “the flagrant violation of the freedom and pluralism of press in the name of the safety of photojournalists”.
“The authorities said that they blocked us for our safety but it is clear that this was just an excuse,” Lolos explained.
In early December 2015, during another police operation to remove migrants protesting against the closed borders from railway tracks, two photographers and two reporters were detained and prevented from doing their jobs, even after showing their press IDs, Lolos said.
While the refugees were warmly received by the majority of the Greek people, some anti-refugee sentiment was evident, giving Greece’s neo-nazi, far-right Golden Dawn party an opportunity to mobilise, including against journalists and photographers covering pro- and anti-refugee demonstrations.
On the 8 April 2016, Vice photographer Alexia Tsagari and a TV crew from the Greek channel E TV were attacked by members of Golden Dawn while covering an anti-refugee demonstration in Piraeus. According to press reports, after the anti-refugee group was encouraged by Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris to attack anti-fascists, a man dressed in black, who had separated from Golden Dawn’s ranks, slapped and kicked Tsagari in the face.
“Since then I have this fear that I cannot do my work freely,” Tsagari told Index on Censorship, adding that this feeling of insecurity becomes even more intense, considering that the Greek riot police were nearby when the attack happened but did not intervene.
Following the EU-Turkey agreement in late March which stemmed the migrant flows, the Greek government agreed to send migrants, including asylum seekers, back to Turkey, recognising it as “safe third country”. As a result, despite the government’s initial disapproval, most of the first reception facilities have turned into overcrowded closed refugee centres.
“Now we need to focus on the living conditions of asylum seekers and migrants inside the state-owned facilities. However, the access is limited for the press. There is a general restriction of access unless you have a written permission from the ministry,” Lolos said, adding that the daily living conditions in some centres are disgraceful.
Ola Aljari is a journalist and refugee from Syria who fled to Germany and now works for Mapping Media Freedom partners the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. She visited Greece twice to cover refugee stories and confirms that restrictions on journalists are increasing.
“With all the restrictions I feel like the authorities have something to hide,” Aljari told Index on Censorship, also mentioning that some Greek journalists have used bribes in order to get authorisation.
Greek journalist, Nikolas Leontopoulos, working along with a mission of foreign journalists from a major international media outlet to the closed centre of VIAL in Chios experienced recently this “reluctance” from Greek authorities to let the press in.
“Although the ministry for migration had sent an email to the VIAL director granting permission to visit and report inside VIAL, the director at first denied the existence of the email and later on did everything in his power to put obstacles and cancel our access to the hotspot,” Leontopoulos told Index on Censorship, commenting that his behaviour is “indicative” of the authorities’ way of dealing with the press.
Greek protesters voiced their opposition to further austerity measures on Wednesday 9 April as Greece returned to international finance markets. (Photo: Christos Syllas for Index on Censorship)In a televised address last Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras thanked the Greek people for the sacrifices they endured during the past four years as the country underwent the harshest austerity measures since emerging from World War II. While hailing the country’s return to the international finance markets after a four-year absence, the prime minister and the coalition government glossed over policies that have resulted in a negative environment for free expression — whether through protests or the press.
Along with the “world of labor” being constantly undervalued, the policies put in place are having a huge impact on the freedom of speech. In a more precise manner, the non-dominant anti-state and anti-government political discourse produced by certain political spaces such as the radical left and anarchists poses a serious threat to the government propaganda. Political dissidents are being targeted, arrested and systematically abused for protesting against the government. At the same time, press freedom is under attack when attempting to speak about the costly agreements with the troika. Also, recent struggles for education came face to face with police interference and student profiling.
The economic implications of the Greek austerity drive are falling mostly on the working class, who are losing hard won benefits without their unions taking a clear stand against the rollbacks. The government is currently legislating a new round of liberalization measures.
On 9 April, an anti-austerity strike was held in Athens with thousands of people rallying against government policies. Although the strike lacked the mass participation and intensity of past rallies, as in 2012, demonstrators managed to manifest their dissent against sweeping socio-econonic measures.
According to the latest data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority, Greece’s unemployment in January 2014 was 26.7%, up from 26.5% a year ago and down from 27.2% in December. The same figure back in January 2009 was at 8.9%. The economic downfall can be clearly seen at the unemployment rate among 15-24 years old and 25-34 years old: 56.8% and 35.5% respectively.
Workfare policies through voucher programmes, initially introduced as a government solution to unemployment, exploit the large reserve of unemployed while undermining the ability to collectively bargain working conditions and pay.
“It is a dead end. If you take a closer look today -a day of strike-, you will see that many coffee shops and sales shops are open. Austerity measures, up to now, seem to be effective in dividing working class people and overturn any social struggle. There’s still a long way to fight properly…”, a 29 year-old protester, who has been unemployed for two years, told Index on Censorship.
Human rights abuses against immigrant workers — the most undervalued part of workforce in Greece — confirm the agenda of a police state flirting with racism and xenophobia.
The dramatic escalation of refugee and migrants’ mistreatment, both by the state and the banned neo fascist party Golden Dawn is indicative. In a recent provocation some Golden Dawn followers organized an intimidating gathering outside the offices of Medecins du Monde, an NGO that provides medication and healthcare services to immigrants as well as Greeks.
However, mainstream media outlets have failed to report on the contradictions that arise from Golden Dawn’s background and relationships. Index on Censorship has thoroughly reported on the affinities of the right and the far-right political spectrum and has identified some key actors that connected ruling party New Democracy with Golden Dawn. One of them, was the former cabinet secretary Panayiotis Baltakos.
Baltakos was recently forced to resign over a leaked video, which showed him having a conversation with the spokesman of Golden Dawn Ilias Kasidiaris. In the video, Baltakos admitted that the government had to press judges to prosecute Golden Dawn’s former members of parliament.
It is worth noting that a year ago, Baltakos had allegedly said that cooperation between New Democracy and Golden Dawn in upcoming elections is “undesirable but not an unlikely possibility”.
The continuous flirting between the ruling New Deomocracy and the now-banned Golden Dawn either takes the form of a “relationship” or of a “conflict”. It is shaping the news agenda and it sets the tone ahead of the European and local elections in May.
In an e-mail interview that took place in January,Index asked Cas Mudde, assistant professor in the Department of International Relations at the University of Georgia, in whose interest is the threat of the far-right is working.
“I would expect that the far right today wins mostly from mainstream right-wing parties – in many countries they won over the left-wing voters in the late-1980s/early-1990s. At the same time, they often attract many new and former non-voters, who would probably traditionally have gone to the center-left”.
Mudde also claims, among other things, “that European politicians use the alleged threat of a far right resurgence, backed by the economic crisis thesis, to push through illiberal policies”.
In this context, on 11 April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Athens. Aside from the mainstream media’s enthusiasm for the return to financial markets, few read between the lines. Merkel’s visit was a sign of support for the Greek government’s austerity measures – despite what the Greek public thinks
Experts warn that even now that “the mood has changed”, the debt crisis and the consequent austerity measures do not necessarily come to an end.
Thessaloniki Pride parade 2012 (Image: Konstantinos Tsakalidis/Demotix)
There is a “dictatorship of the gay minority” and gay people should be “treated” by members of Golden Dawn. These are only excerpts of a 15-minute homophobic rant by journalist Dimos Verikios during a recent episode of his daily show on Alpha radio station. The outburst was met with a number of complaints and social media outrage, and has been condemned by the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers.
Verikios was targeting gay writer Auguste Corteau, who revealed his sexuality by publicly stating that he won’t be joining new political party The River, preferring to stay loyal to his husband and his books. In response to this, the radio host among other things said: “That’s why society goes to hell. Being gay today and crying it out loud is considered a cunning behaviour and not a problem.”
Verykios’ outburst seems to be only the tip of the iceberg. Homophobic stereotypes and discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Greece, both on state level and in wider society. The 2013 annual report by the European arm of the international gay right organisation ILGA, reports a wave of violence directed at the LGBTI community by extremists, ranking Greece 25th out of 49 European countries for gay rights. In 2012, European Commission against Racism and Intolerance urged Greek authorities to raise awareness “on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment regardless of racial or ethnic origin, religious or other beliefs, disability, age or sexual orientation”.
Electra Leda Koutra is the president of the NGO Hellenic Action for Human Rights and lawyer for the Greek Transgender Support Association. She was harassed by policemen and illegally detained for a short while last June for trying to communicate with her transgender client. “Many cases do not reach the courts because of the ‘outing’ that the victims would have to unwillingly go through during the legal procedure,” she explains to Index, adding that many of these cases often go unresolved.
Verykios outburst was answered by a collective complaint from the LGBTQI community — nearly 20 organisations and collectivities took part — to the National Council for Radio and Television (ESR). The president of ESR, Ioannis Laskaridis, said told media that the volume of complaints filed was “unusual”.
Corteau is suing Verykios over the statements, posting on his Facebook page that: “I have decided that I have a duty to stand up for and protect the people I love and then any person that could find themselves in my position, a target of the poisonous language represented by Mr Verikios.” Corteau’s lawyer Christos Gramatidis explained the nature of the legal action to Index: “It is the first lawsuit of its kind (compensation for moral damages, eponymous opposing parties) based on the basis of attacking personality and consisting of libel and insult of gender identity. As a country we haven’t incorporated yet the European legal framework of combating intolerance”.
Gramatidis added: “There are so many people from the LGBTI community who accept bullying in schools and elsewhere in society but they do not have the ability to go into court.”