Earlier this week at the meeting of the European Federation of Journalists steering committee in Brussels, we were updated by the delegate from the Greek journalists’ union on the impact of the severe austerity measures on journalists and other media workers. Salaries cut by up to 40 per cent, sackings and closures are the order of the day. The government is expected to run out of cash to pay for public services by mid-October if it does not receive further loans.
Two dates later saw a general strike, with Athens being brought to a standstill. This is because the very latest austerity measures impose more cuts in pensions, raise the number of civil servants to be suspended, pending likely redundancy, to 30,000 and lowers the threshold at which people start paying income tax by a third to €100 a week. A new property tax on every homeowner will be collected through electricity bills with the unemployed, the disabled and pensioners paying the same rate as the wealthy. Non payment will result in electricity being cut off.
This is on top of earlier drastic budget cutbacks, lower wages, new taxes and a rapid programme of privatisations worth €50 billion: and there will be more to come if the IMF/European Union/European Central Bank gang is not satisfied with the pain inflicted. Unemployment has doubled since 2008 – to a fifth – over a million people out of work, while 150,000 public jobs will be cut over the next two years. Inflationary is rising and, as in the UK, demand is falling sharply.
Also received this week was a report from con the outlook for Greek media following a five-day country mission to the country. It makes grim reading.
‘(RSF/IFEX) – 16 September 2011 – Reporters Without Borders visited Athens from 27 July to 3 August to investigate the recent decline in media freedom in Greece, a country that continues to worry its European partners. Greece has fallen three years in a row in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, from 31st in 2008 to 70th in 2010, level with its neighbour Bulgaria. The fall has been due to practices that are both surprising and unacceptable for a European Union member.
The economic and financial crisis has contributed to this decline and has above all highlighted the weaknesses of Greece’s media and its almost mafia-like practices. Owned by a few big businessmen and shipping magnates, most of the media companies are nowadays threatened with collapse, which would set off a wave of dismissals in a profession already suffering from poor pay and conditions.
The blogosphere offers a freer space for expression and a temporary antidote to the self-censorship that is becoming more and more widespread in the traditional media. But the internet does not offer an economically viable alternative that could help reverse the disastrous practices that have taken hold in the past two decades.
Against the backdrop of street violence, a very deep crisis of confidence has developed between the media and public. Seen either as louts or well-off brats, journalists are often identified with the now despised political class. Many now fear physical violence and some use protection.
The targets of smear campaigns that mix sarcastic slogans with death threats, journalists now think twice about going out on to the streets to report. Stelios Kouloglou, long the symbol of investigative journalism, is now the victim of a defamatory poster campaign. His crime? Laying off staff at his Web TV station because it ran into financial problems.
Although less exposed than their Greek colleagues, foreign reporters based in Greece recognize that they face problems that are unusual in a European Union member country. But they prefer to be discreet on the subject because, like their Greek colleagues, they fear the possibility of reprisals or violence.
The crisis has radicalized a sector of the population, which expresses its anger and frustration in increasingly violent demonstrations. Photographers and cameramen are more and more at risk as they encounter situations akin to civil war in the course of trying to cover the activities of these grass-roots movements.
Caught between the violence of the extremist movements and the violence of anti-riot police who show little respect for their professional status, photographers are paying a high price for the coverage they give us.
No journalists were upbeat about the consequences of the austerity plans and cuts, but Reporters Without Borders found that most of the ones interviewed regarded the economic crisis as a chance for the media to break with the patronage system that has prevailed since the 1980s. Could the crisis help advance the cause of media freedom in Greece? ‘
Reporters Without Borders
47, rue Vivienne
rsf (@) rsf.org
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84
Fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51.
Other source: Zoe Lanara of the GSEE on the austerity measures in Greece. Why there will be a general strike on 18 October…