Tensions between the Greek government and journalists have continued to mount this week following the summary dismissal of two TV presenters from a morning news/magazine programme after they mildly criticised Greek government minister Nikos Dendias. Their removal from the programme which is broadcast on state channel ERT
(Ellinikí Radiofonía Tileórasi) has resulted in Greek journalists calling a series of rolling strikes.
Speaking to The Guardian
, Dimitris Trimis, head of the Athens Newspaper Editors Union, said the current pressure on press freedom in Greece was the most intense of his career.
"This is a matter of democracy. The government feels insecure. The only way it feels it can convince society of its policies is to try to manipulate the media through coercion. This is true of both state television and in the private sector of the media where there has been a large number of lost jobs and wage cuts and so it has become easier to manipulate in the interests of the government and the economic elite."
Coming on top of the swift arrest, court appearance, trial and acquittal of investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis
, who stood trial for publishing in his magazine, HotDocs, the infamous ‘Lagarde List’ of wealthy Greeks holding Swiss bank accounts, the removal of the television presenters only adds to the impression that press freedom in Greece is under attack.
Marilena Katsimi and Kostas Arvanitis were dropped from their morning magazine programme on ERT after they had exchanged views on how Greek public order minister Nikos Dendias had reacted to a report which originally appeared in The Guardian
concerning a claim that anti-fascist demonstrators had been tortured by Greek police. Dendias had threatened to sue The Guardian newspaper over the allegations but a medical examiner’s report on injuries suffered by the demonstrators had concluded that torture had taken place.
According to Keeptalkinggreece.com
, the exchange between Katsimi and Arvanitis (translated from first broadcast in Greek) went like this:
M. Katsimi. … and here came out the forensic findings for the 15 arrested published in the Guardian and for which case Mr. Dendias wanted to sue the Guardian
Mr. Arvanitis. Didn’t he sue?
M. Katsimi. He didn’t because the findings show that it is indeed a felony.
Mr. Arvanitis. And now, is he going to resign?
M. Katsimi. I do not think that he would resign. But it was strange what Mr. Dendias said – as if he knew the findings, which is not normally done, that one the other hand is good that he didn’t know the findings but on the other hand, how can you say such a thing?
Mr. Arvanitis. And now what? Would he apologize?
M. Katsimi. I do not know ….
Mr. Arvanitis. Wow… that’s difficult for Mr. Dendias. And he is from the same place as you, from Corfu.
M. Katsimi. And he is a serious man and I have to say.”
Interviewed by The Guardian after her suspension Katsimi said, “About an hour after the programme ended, the director of information called for a transcript. He didn't ask to talk to us. And it was then announced that two other journalists would present tomorrow's show. We were cut. The style of the programme is very informal. It is a morning conversation over a cup of coffee and it is very popular with high ratings. We have been critical of ministers in the past from all parties, and there have been complaints to the management before but this is new. This is threat to public and private media."
Katsimi also referred to “peculiar things’ happening at ERT.
"Everywhere in media people are being fired, but at ERT they are hiring. The government want people who agree with their position and they want to hire their friends."
In support of their suspended colleagues, other ERT journalists called an initial 2 hour strike starting early on Tuesday morning to be followed by a series of rolling strikes until such time as the two suspended journalists were re-instated.
ERT's general director for news, Aimilios Liatsos, issued a statement following the suspensions saying the two journalists had "violated the basic rules of journalistic practice,” alleging they had made "unacceptable insinuations" about Dendias without the Minister having an opportunity to express his view, "while their comments appeared to anticipate the results of a court decision".