Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Greece Still Scores Last on Press Freedom

Press Release - Greek Helsinki Monitor


Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), on the occasion of tomorrow's World Press Freedom Day, points out that, among the countries with a long democratic tradition, Greece is regrettably the one with the least respect for press freedom. This is shown in the recent report of the international organization Freedom House, and is best explained in the annual report of the International Press Institute, which refers to an exchange between IPI and the Greek delegation during an OSCE meeting on Freedom of Expression in 2001.

In the Freedom House report [The Annual Survey of Press Freedom 2002, on a scale of 0 [total freedom] - 100 [no freedom at all], Greece scores 30 for the year 2001, which is the worst score a free country can get. The countries with partial freedom begin at 31, the countries with no freedom from 61. All new democracies in Central Europe and the Baltics score better than Greece does. In the OSCE area, only most (but not all) Balkan and former Soviet countries are worse off. The detailed table is available at the end of this release.

GHM, as well as all international press freedom organizations, have repeatedly asked for changes in the legislation so that libel be decriminalized and articles that criminalize the (even in extreme forms) expression of opinion (blasphemy, disturbance of international relations, etc.) or investigative reporting (publication of classified documents, etc.) be abolished, as they are internationally unacceptable restrictions of freedom of expression.

In the International Press Institute report World Press Freedom Review 2001: Greece (, the following is mentioned, inter alia:
"Greece continues to be one of the few countries within the European Union (EU) that has consistently brought criminal defamation suits against journalists. IPI and other press freedom organisations have long campaigned for the repeal of such repressive laws, pointing out that handing down prison sentences in defamation cases impedes the free flow of information and ideas and the threat of imprisonment deters free and critical reporting. In addition, criminal defamation is in contradiction to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, to which all EU members, including Greece are bound by law.

However, representatives of the Greek government deny that criminal defamation, as applied in Greece, constitutes a threat to freedom of expression. At a meeting on Freedom of Expression in Europe, organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on 12-13 March and attended by IPI, a Greek government representative said that Greek journalists prefer the current system since it is cheaper for them. The Greek delegate said that it in common practice, if an individual is found guilty of defamation, prison sentences are bought off for a small amount of money. As such, it is cheaper for the convicted than if a verdict were reached in civil court.

After being presented with an IPI paper at the conference listing a number of press freedom violations in Greece, the Greek representative said that press freedom organisations have a biased picture of the situation for Greek journalists and that many of the reported incidents are not press freedom violations at all. IPI pointed out that, in practice, criminal defamation criminalizes free speech which goes against a number of international declarations and that the use of it in Greece reveals a deep-seated suspicion on part of the Greek authorities against a free and unfettered media. The attitude of the Greek representative was also evident in a protracted court case which dragged on last year."