Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
IPI 2004 World Press Freedom Review: Greece

By South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

During 2004 there were local reports that some journalists are receiving payments from public sector sources and, at the same time, working as journalists reporting on the same public sector sources.

On 9 March, following the victory of the "New Democracy" party in national elections, new Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis announced the abrogation of the Ministry for Press and Mass Media. Theodoros Roussopoulos became the new government spokesperson, succeeding Christos Protopapas of the PASOK party.

On 31 March, ESIEMTH stopped working for three hours in solidarity with the nationwide 24-hour strike declared by the Pan Hellenic Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), demanding the signing of the National Collective Labour Charter.

On 4 May, the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) denounced the decision by Greek state TV ET-3 to cancel the showing of the documentary "The other side," scheduled for 11 p.m. on 3 May. The documentary, produced by the same TV station, presented the events of 1963-1974 in Cyprus from the angle of Turkish-Cypriots and received an honourable mention in the Sixth International Festival of Thessaloniki in March 2004. As the daily Elefherotypia reported on 3 May, the cancellation was the result of pressure from "nationally correct-minded" persons, who consider the documentary "anti-national."

On 25 May 2004, two political parties, Vinozhito/Rainbow and ultra-left OAKKE, left a round table, which was supposed to settle how the media would cover parties participating in upcoming European Parliament elections. They were protesting the participation of the ultra-nationalist/fascist "Patriotic Front" in the talks, which threatened to violently stop the first Vinozhito/Rainbow congress, scheduled for the 30 May in Thessaloniki. Minister of Internal Affairs Prokopis Pavlopoulos had rejected Vinozhito/Rainbow's request that the "Patriotic Front" be barred from the proceedings.

On 4 June, police stopped transmissions by radio station Makedonikos Ikos (Macedonian Sound) in Naoussa/Negush, northern Greece. They also arrested and fined owner Aris Vottaris for not having a broadcasting license.

SEEMO has urged the Greek government to avoid discriminatory acts and to speed up the distribution of regional broadcasting licenses. The incident led to a common intervention over the licensing issue from both the Greek ombudsman and the Republic of Macedonia. The charged station broadcasts in Macedonian and frequently transmits traditional songs in Macedonian.

On 15 July, a serious dispute between the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Journalists (POESY) and media ownership unions about salaries and working conditions lead to continuous strikes in newspapers, TV and radio. On 5 August 2004, journalists and media owners signed an annual salary raise of 6.5 per cent over the next two years. No agreement has been reached regarding other issues (such as prior debts, working conditions, overtime etc.). On 31 August, almost all media companies reported a rise in their revenue, operational and net profits for the first half of 2004.

On 28 July, an AFP photographer, who took photos in the tourist district of Athens, was held under arrest for several hours. This was one of several examples of "Olympic games chaos," as one local reporter said.

On 2 August, two journalists from a TV station in Mexico were arrested, together with local translators, and were then beaten by members of the coast guard.

On 3 August, four journalists from Mexico were under arrest for several hours, after they were found working near a military base in Athens.

On 15 October, the International Publishers' Association (IPA) expressed its concern over blasphemy charges (made by the Greek Orthodox Church) directed at a number of booksellers because of Gerhard Haderer's artistic comic book "The Life of Jesus," from the Oxy Publishing House. IPA condemned the confiscation of the book. It was the second protest reaction; the first was in 2003. The book was previously published in seven other countries, including Austria, where the author lives.

On 18 October, Philippos Syrigos, sports editor of the Athens daily Eleftherotypia and famous radio and TV presenter, was attacked and stabbed by two men (yet to be arrested) in a parking lot near the Super Sport FM radio station, while going to his car.

The men managed to escape. Syrigos was rushed to hospital and operated on. In a press conference, which he gave few days after being able to return home, he stated that stories about doping during the Athens Olympics and about various businessmen could be the possible cause for the attack. SEEMO has urged Greek authorities to intensify efforts to find and bring to justice the responsible parties.

In October 2004, the Thessaloniki Court of Appeals has confirmed an original decision of the Thessaloniki Court of First Instance against a publisher, who victimised journalist Haralambos Babis Bikas. The court ruling from 2004 No 1976/2004 provided important safeguards for journalists in Greece.

On 23 April 2003, Babis Bikas, editor of Makedonia daily in Thessaloniki, was fired after returning to Greece from Iraq. Two days previously, Babis Bikas had announced during an ethics committee meeting of the Union of Journalists of Macedonia and Thrace (ESIEMTH) that his report from Baghdad had been censored, adding changes had been made to his report, which was published on 10 April 2003.

Newspaper staff, backed by ESIEMTH, held a 24-hour strike in support of press freedom on 13 May 2003. A letter of protest was handed to newspaper management. Five different journalists' associations and unions in Greece supported Babis Bikas.

In decision 12705 of 15 May 2003, the court rejected the appeal of the publishing company to pronounce the strike on 13 May illegal. The decision ruled the dismissal of Babis Bikas illegal, and stated that abuse of journalists' texts is an unduly excessive practice beyond the competence of managing editors, adding freedom of the press is a superior good, beyond any private interest.

The Court of First Instance of Thessaloniki gave Babis Bikas his job back. SEEMO supported Babis Bikas in his fight. As a "victory for editorial independence in Greece" SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic commended the triumph of Bikas.

In December 2004, the Minister of Defence decided to limit the rights of journalists to visit the Ministry of Defence. The Minister of Defence, Spilios Spiliotopoulos, gave an order, that journalists would need special permissions from the Ministry of Defence for visiting the building.

For more information about media developments and press freedom in Greece, please see the SEEMO Media Handbook 2005.