Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
IPI 2003 World Press Freedom Review: Greece

Journalists working conditions are still a problem in Greece. Many journalists have short fixed-term contracts, with a salary lower than that of other colleagues. At the beginning of 2003, for example, there were more than 500 journalists working with short fixed-term contracts in the public broadcaster ERT.

No progress at all has been made on the issue diversity of reporting in the mainstream media. The minority position is still a taboo in much of the media, although some media have made steps towards a better treatment of the Roma people. There have been reports on their problems and way of life, traditions, music, among others, but stereotypes remain.

The most characteristic example of this type of behaviour is the double cancellation of the congress of "Vinozhito-Rainbow". This is an officially recognized political party representing the Macedonian minority in Greece. The congresses were supposed to be held in Edessa. But the threats, demonstrations and violence on the part of a few ultra-nationalists and neo-fascist extremists caused them to be cancelled.

Because of the threats the offer to use the Congress Hall was withdrawn. The ultra-nationalist position was supported by two newspapers, both closely linked to the ultra-right -- Stohos-Target and Ellinikos Kosmos-Greek World. Both used headlines like, "Throw the Slavs out of Greece" and "Crush the Skopjan Gypsies."

On the other hand, none of the mainstream media, with the exception of some dailies such as Eleftherotypia and Express, have carried even a short report on the incidents. This, despite the fact that the cancellation of the congress caused an international reaction, varying from the European Parliament to organizations like the Council of Europe, Minority Rights Group International, and the Greek Helsinki Monitor, among others.

The issue of homosexuality still poses major problems for the media. The TV station Mega Channel was fined 100,000 Euros by the National Council of Radio and Television ("NCRT") for transmitting, on 6 October, pictures of two men kissing as part of the late-night TV programme "Klisse ta matia" ("Close your eyes"). The Council considered the kissing scene to be "vulgar and unacceptable" and claimed "it could damage young people by making them too familiar with vulgarity."

Alternatively, the state itself does not seem very willing to solve the problem of the proper operation of TV and radio stations. Recently, 15 companies applied to the NCRT for a permanent nationwide TV license. The final results are not expected until 2004. Up to now, existing TV stations were operating with provisional licenses or no license at all. The same applies with regard to regional licenses, both for TV and for radio stations. The only difference is that the screening procedure has not yet started so it is impossible to estimate when it will be eventually finalized.

The most serious press freedom violation was the one concerning the journalist -- author Gazment (Gazi) Kaplani. Mostly known to the Albanian community in Athens, Kaplani was semi-employed by the biggest daily newspaper in Greece Ta Nea and has also worked for the state radio station NET 105.8, as well as for the Albanian daily Koha Jone.

Just before Christmas 2002, he wrote an "open letter" on behalf of all Albanian immigrants, and addressed it to Prime Minister Simitis and the Greek people. In it, he simply tried to describe Christmas from the immigrants point of view, using sarcasm, which was directed against himself, as well as humour.

His problems started at the beginning of 2003, when the Greek ministry of Public Order told Kaplani that the application for renewal of his working permit for Greece was rejected and that he would be deported from the country. Asked for a reason, the ministry claimed that he had not paid any insurance for his motorbike since 1997. Later the ministry spokesman admitted that Kaplani was considered unwanted in Greece due to "reasons of security and public order."

The Athens Journalists' Union ("ESIEA") strongly protested. The ESIEA board stressed that Kaplani was a journalist and writer ''who has been working in Greece since 1991, is insured, submits tax returns and since 2001 he had a Greek state scholarship for his Ph.D. studies at Panteion University. The social and personal life and action of Gazi Kaplani is legal and transparent." ESIEA also called on the public order ministry to make public ''the confidential report on the journalist, from which it stems that he is dangerous for public order and security and which places him in constant danger of deportation."

SEEMO reacted on 16 May with a protest letter to the Minister of Public Order and Interior Minister. SEEMO received an answer instead from the Ministry of the Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation, with the information that "as long as this case is linked to issues regarding public order and national security" it does not fall under the competence of this Ministry. "In this case, the competent authority is the Ministry of Public Order," the letter sent to SEEMO on 25 July stated. The Ministry of Public Order did not respond to SEEMOs letter in 2003.

On 23 April, Babis Bikas, editor of Makedonia daily in Thessaloniki, was fired after returning to Greece from Iraq. Two days previously Bikas had announced during a meeting of the Ethics Committee of the Union of Journalists of Macedonia and Thrace ("ESIEMTH") that his report from Baghdad had been censored. Changes were made in Babisґ report published on 10 April. The staff of the newspaper, backed by ESIEMTH, held a 24-hour strike in support of press freedom on 13 May. A letter of protest was handed to the management of the newspaper. Five different Journalist Associations and Unions in Greece supported Bikas.

In its decision 12705 of 15 May the Court rejected the appeal of the publishing company to pronounce the strike on 13 May illegal. The decision stated that the dismissal of Babis Bikas was illegal, that abuse of journalistsґ texts is an excessive practice beyond the competence of managing editors and that the freedom of the press is a superior good beyond any private interest. Bikas was given his job back.

In September, the journalistsunions were active in overturning the decision to layoff their former member and active union leader Dimitris Aspropoulis, who was dismissed from the Antenna broadcasting station after working there for fourteen years. The layoff took place after the management had expressed disapproval of his union activity and his presence. According to the management, Aspropoulis was being laid off because the stations news programme had to be replaced by a music programme. This was strange, because the broadcasting permit for the station had been granted on the basis of its news programme.

On 29 September, a group of unknown assailants threw a homemade incendiary device at the front door of Anna Panayotareas house in Athens, causing damage but no injuries. Panayotarea, a presenter with the TV station Alpha, told the police that she had been threatened several times in the past by anonymous phone calls. She linked these calls and also the attack on her home to her investigations into the activities of the "17 November" terrorist group. For the same reasons, anarchists verbally and physically attacked Nikos Kakaounakis, an editor at the radio station Flash and owner of the weekly newspaper Karfi.

From the point of view of observers, in the case of the trial of the "17 November" group members, the press in general followed the government's line uncritically. They were being used to encourage the public to denounce terrorists to the police. On the other hand, there have been accusations concerning the way the press covered the terrorist group memberstrial that ended on 8 December 2003. The fact remains that several journalists were verbally and sometimes physically attacked for the way they covered the story, both in 2002 and 2003.

ET3 was in the spotlight on 8 December. During a working table held by the Ministry of Press and Mass Media, ET3's editor Thanassis Houpis claimed that the chairman of the European Bureau for Less Used Languages ("EBLUL" -- a semi-official institution of the European Union) in Greece is a dangerous person who has publicly stated that Greek Macedonia should become independent only to be united at a later stage with the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia ("FYROM"). Such a statement was never made and Houpis' point caused an official protest to ET3 from both Parissis and EBLUL President Bojan Brezigar.

On 17 December, the International Publishers` Association ("IPA") expressed its concern about charges of blaspheming the Greek Orthodox Church and the Christian religion made against Gerhard Haderer, the author of the artistic comic book "The Life of Jesus," and also against the Oxy publishing House. IPA condemned the confiscation of "The Life of Jesus." The book was published in 7 other countries, including Austria, where the author lives.

In the second half of 2003, the Thessaloniki-based Greek state television ET-3 withdrew funding for a documentary on Max Merten, a war criminal who was tried in 1959 and convicted of responsibility for the Holocaust relating to Greek Jews during World War II. The Greek Helsinki Monitor ("GHM") pointed out on 21 December in a letter to the Deputy Interior Minister Nikos Bistis that "the fact of going back on such a decision is tantamount to censorship and does not augur well for the first commemoration of Holocaust Day." Bistis had recently introduced a Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Simon Wiesenthal Center also urged the Greek State television to reinstate its financial backing for the documentary on the Nazi Holocaust.

On 28 December, the TV station Alter sent its reporter Antonis Papadopoulos, a member of the ESIEA, along with a camera crew, to the public Nikea General Hospital, after it received several telephone calls from relatives of patients hospitalised there. They claimed that due to the large number of patients needing medical treatment and a shortage of appropriate rooms, the patients were put on so-called "rantza" beds in the corridors of the hospital, where they were kept in poor conditions.

Papadopoulos and his crew went to investigate and were able to enter the hospital without any problem. They even filmed the situation, which proved to correspond to the accusations made by the patients' relatives. Soon people from a private security company, who are responsible for order in the hospital, arrived and attacked the crew. Papadopoulos was beaten repeatedly. His clothes were torn, his bag taken. He was forced to go to the basement of the building where he was questioned. Those who questioned him had no right to do so.

The police arrived later and took Papadopoulos and the persons who had beaten him to the neighbouring police station, where they all gave evidence. The tape on which the beginning of the incident was filmed was returned to Alter and shown nation-wide. SEEMO sent a letter of protest, asking the authorities in Greece to carry out an immediate and thorough investigation and to bring to justice those responsible for the attack.