South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Freedom Review - Greece
posted March 29 2005
2004 World Press Freedom Review
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
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
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
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
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
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.
2003 World Press Freedom Review
By South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
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
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
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 SEEMO's 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 Babis/ 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
journalists/ 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 journalists' unions 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 station's 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 Panayotarea's 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 members' trial
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.
2002 World Press Freedom Review
By the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
The way the main media carry out news coverage and the fact that certain
well-known journalists stray from the journalism code of ethics is a
distinct problem for the media in Greece. Furthermore, it is obvious
that the big media groups are closely tied to various political and
economic power centres, causing an oligopolistic situation.
Besides government control of the state media there are many accusations
that the owners of the media are connected with politicians and political
parties. As underlined in the "Report for the Corruption in Greece" by
an investigative body of the Council of Europe, "There are great
dangers because of the relations among politicians, media groups and
economic interests... "
For example, an editor can work for a political party or state/private
company while covering the same area of news. In electronic media, mainly
television, there is a growing commercialisation. This phenomenon dominates
the media, annulling the basic role of the press and leading to a lack
of real information and a misunderstanding about the reality of certain
One event stands out as an example of this situation. During the summer,
an armed group was arrested, and the reports on this issue reflected
all that is negative about the media. Its members were accused by the
police of being part of the revolutionary organisation "17 November".
Since 1974, the group has assassinated 23 high ranking politicians,
businessman, police and army officers and bombed political, economic
and foreign targets.
On this topic, the public witnessed the media desire to produce "yellow
journalism". Well-known journalists played the role of prosecutors,
reporting the names of those about to be arrested and using information
given by the police, the antiterrorist unit, the ministry of public
and also information from the British and American embassies and secret
Starting on 29 June, most TV and radio stations, as well as newspapers,
devoted more time to the so-called "dismantling" of the terrorist
group than any other news event since the fall of the military dictatorship
in 1974. It was something that had to be expected, though, and to a
certain point this extended coverage made the public familiar with all
sorts of details, concerning the lives of the people arrested. The media
continued highlighting the event over the summer presenting "exclusive
terrorist stories" in order to cover space. But these stories were
beginning to sound false. The same journalists and politicians appeared
as daily guests on TV shows and began to annoy the public. As a result,
the rights of the victims of the organisation, the arrested and their
families were brutally violated by an "invasion" of reporters
seeking the so-called "truth behind the scene(s)".
During a march on the United States' embassy in Athens on 26 September,
protesters destroyed a truck belonging to the private television channel
Mega, causing minor injuries to a reporter and two technicians. Several
news photographers and cameramen had their equipment destroyed. Messages
of support for 17 November were found written on walls.
On 2 October, some 20 helmeted individuals, apparently members of an
anarchist group, attacked the Athens offices of the daily newspaper
Apogevmatini, tossing Molotov cocktails and setting fire to several
The newspaper's staff were in the office at the time but no one was
injured. The assailants all fled before the police arrived. The newspaper,
whose owner Nikos Momfertos, was murdered in 1985 by 17 November, had
come out in favour of cracking down on the terrorist group. On 7 October,
RSF voiced its concern about the recent attacks on Greek journalists
and news organisations that have taken place against a backdrop of controversy
over the arrests of members of the 17 November terrorist group. "The
use of violence against journalists is never justified", RSF Secretary-General
Robert Menard said, urging those who take issue with coverage of the
17 November arrests to voice their criticisms verbally in forums for
public debate. "Those who accuse the press of bias on this issue
should use democratic means to bring their case forward."
The general elections in municipalities and prefectures, held on 13
October, showed that the Greek media are still reluctant to give space
or time to people who support smaller political parties. TV shows only
had candidates who support the two main parties, PASOK and New Democracy.
This was a common picture and other parties protested this without success.
The example of the Macedonian political party "Vinozhito-Rainbow" is
characteristic of this problem.
The minority question is still a topic for foreign observers in Greece.
For many of the media, the position of minorities is still a taboo subject.
Some media have campaigned for a better treatment of the Roma people
and there have been articles on their problems and the way of life,
traditions, music etc, but stereotypes remain. The Turkish-speaking
minority in Thrace is still called a "Muslim minority" by
almost all of the media following the official line. However, there
are media who are critical of the policy of the Greek state and who
report on the social-economic problems of this minority.
Still, some media accuse the Turkish minority of being the "instruments
of Ankara". For the people who describe themselves as "Macedonians" in
the Greek region of Macedonia (North Greece), there are also obvious
problems. There is the continued denial that such a minority exists
and some activists are accused of being "spies of Skopje".
Concerning the Albanian immigrants, the "Albaniaphobia" of
the 90s has decreased, but some stereotypes remain.
There have been cases of inciting racial hate and anti-Semitism in
several Greek print media. However, defamation cases against journalists
continue in the country. This led the Greek Helsinki Monitor, on the
occasion of World Press Freedom Day, to state that "among the countries
with a long democratic tradition, Greece is regrettably the one with
the least respect for press freedom". On the other hand, RSF published
an Index of press freedom for the period September 2001-October 2002,
where Greece received rank 19 from 139 countries worldwide, placing
it before other countries in the European Union.
During 2002, the SEEMO help line and database registered 6 cases of
press freedom violations in Greece.
2001 World Press Freedom Review
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.
On 2 February, Sotiris Bletsas, a member of the Society for Aromanian
(Vlach) Culture, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined the
equivalent of US $1,400 by an Athens court for disseminating false information
under Article 191 of the penal code. Bletsas appealed the sentence and
was set free pending the appeal. The charges were brought by a deputy
with the conservative party New Democracy, Eugene Haitidis, and concern
leaflets distributed by Bletsas in 1995 which he deemed defamatory to
the Vlachs, since they referred to the Vlach language as a "minority
language". In addition, the court said the leaflet, published by
the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages, could cause "fear
and anxiety among citizens." The case has been appealed.
The trial has been criticised by several human rights organisations
and critics maintain that Greek authorities are particularly reluctant
to acknowledge the existence of a number of minority languages in Greece
and that the sentence provides further evidence for this. Greece has
been criticised for failing to provide minorities with sufficient rights,
which are considered to be of extra importance since Greece is a centre
for immigrants from the Balkan region.
Elsewhere, the American embassy in Athens refused to grant a left-wing
journalist a visa at the beginning of the year. Christos Papoutsakis,
editor of political weekly Anti, was denied the visa needed to go to
an event organised on 1 February by the Columbia School of Journalism
on dissenting journalism. The Greek Helsinki Monitor, a human rights
organisation, protested the decision. It is believed a possible reason
for the denial is that Papoutsakis's name remains on security lists
dating from the Cold War. Papoutsakis has long been a critic of U.S.
On 9 April, Greek journalists went on strike demanding a pay-rise and
better pension plans. The journalists' union released a statement saying
the journalists in print and electronic media want "decent wages" and
that they would strike for one day to achieve this aim.
On 8 June, a group of Greek students forcefully entered a public television
station in the city of Thessaloniki. The students, all with Aristotle
University in Thessaloniki, demanded they be allowed to state their
views on education reform, a demand which was granted by the manager
of ET3 television.
In Greece, pirated entertainment products remains a problem. On 22
March, U.S Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the U.S. has resolved
a three-year long trade dispute with Greece over illegal broadcasting
of movies and television shows made in the U.S. The two countries reached
an agreement after Greek officials said they would crack down on individuals
dealing in pirated goods and that the necessary legislation to deal
with the problem would be passed. Much like in neighbouring Albania,
many smaller TV stations air copyrighted material without the necessary
permission to do so.
2000 World Press Freedom Review
Greek journalists and media outlets have long been wary of politicians
bearing gifts. More often than not, such "gifts" are legal
writs inviting the journalist or media organisation to appear in court
to defend a charge of defamation. Furthermore, independent journalists
in the country have repeatedly denounced the use of criminal defamation
in the country to silence the media; however, so far the Greek government
has been deaf to the pleas of the media organisations and has failed
to heed the application of article 10 of the European Convention of
Although paragraph 2 of article 10 of the Convention states that there
are restrictions to freedom of expression by, "penalties as are
prescribed by law" this is ameliorated by the statement, "that
are necessary in a democratic society". It is this statement that
the Greek government has failed to fully appreciate. As IPI has consistently
made clear, the failure of any society to uphold the principles of press
freedom means that the label "democracy" has only a veneer
Elsewhere, the Greek authorities denial of entry to a Macedonian author
and the arrest and harassment of a Turkish television crew also point
to an unwarranted sensitivity on the part of the government. This behaviour
further reinforces the view that although outwardly appearing to accept
the obligations that are attendant with its membership of the European
Union, Greece is having difficulties in coming to terms with the conditions
necessary for a free and open society.
In another defamation case that had implications for freedom of expression,
on 7 March, composer Manolis Rasoulis was given a 12-month prison sentence
for defamatory statements he made in an interview to the daily newspaper
Exousia on 14 April 1998. Under Greek law, the sentence can be "bought
off" by paying US $4.50 for each day that the individual is sentenced
to prison. Rasoulis was convicted by the three-member First Instance
(Misdemeanor) Court in Athens for "aggravated defamation" of
singer Yorgos Dalaras. The Court considered defamatory the statement
made by Rasoulis that, "Dalaras did not give the benefit concert
in Cyprus for free but was paid by "Alpha Sound". Rasoulis
was tried in absentia as he left Greece on the eve of the trial "forever," as
he declared. The Court also acquitted the newspaper.
On 30 May, writer Vasko Karadza, a citizen and resident of Skopje,
Macedonia, was denied entrance into Greece at the Greek-Macedonian border
because he was "registered [on] an inadmissible list". The
refusal of entry occurred even though he held a legal visa issued by
the Greek Consulate in Skopje on 29 May. Karadza had previously visited
Greece in 1998, when he was invited by a state National Book Centre
to participate in the Balkan Writers Laboratory.
According to the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), on 8 June, journalist
Panos Lambrou of the weekly Epochi was attacked by a crowd led by members
of the municipal council in Nea Kios. Police, who were apparently present
at the scene, failed to intervene and assist the journalist. Lambrou
was participating in a visit by 40 members of an antiracist group, members
of political parties and other organisations, who came from Athens to
Nea Kios. The group had assembled in an act of solidarity with the local
Roma community which has been facing racist attacks by local citizens
and authorities. According to the authorities, the visitors were seen
as undesirable "for [exhibiting a] lack of good intentions".
Without any police interference, local citizens impeded the group's
movement and harassed the journalist in front of the city hall.
On 15 July, three journalists were temporarily arrested by Greek police
officers while travelling on the road between Xanthi and Echinos. Those
arrested were journalists Beyza Guducu and Didem Ozbahceci and cameraman
Alihan Sonmez, all of whom work for TGRT-TV. They were accompanied by
Ayca Guducu, Guducu's sister and the Greek driver of their rented car.
The media workers had come to Greece to prepare a documentary on Greek
people who had moved to the Echinos region in 1923, following the population
exchange between Greece and Turkey. They had also intended to interview
members of the Turkish minority living in the area. Written permission
from the Greek Ministry of Mass Media had been obtained prior to their
On their way to Echinos, two plainclothes policemen followed them in
an unmarked vehicle. After travelling around eight kilometres, they
were stopped by another official police vehicle which appeared to be
waiting for them. They were told that they were not allowed to proceed
any further, as they did not have the proper license for entering the
restricted zone. The journalists showed the police officers their documents,
which were written in both English and Greek, but the officers told
them that this was insufficient to allow them to proceed.
The group were then advised over the telephone by legal defenders Mehmet
Dukkanci and Aysel Zeybek of GHM's Thrace Office to return to police
headquarters in Xanthi and ask for an official explanation of the incident.
However, the policemen refused to let them go and illegally held them
in custody for 45 minutes. During this time, a number of other policemen
arrived, increasing the number of police vehicles to five and the total
number of officers to 10. Policemen then checked and confiscated the
passports of the media employees. After this examination, they were
forced to drive to the Xanthi police station with a police escort in
front of their vehicle and two unmarked police vehicles behind them.
Upon reaching the Xanthi police headquarters, the journalists' team
leader, Guducu, was taken into the building and then questioned by four
policemen. One of the officers said, "Why are you here? What are
your purposes?" The journalist then explained the reason for the
group's visit and displayed his written permission; however, he was
told that this was not enough and that the region was restricted. In
addition, Guducu was told that a special permit was needed from Athens
and that the process, "takes at least three days".
The journalists were finally released from custody, after being illegally
held for one hour and 45 minutes. After being released, the journalists
remained under surveillance by plainclothes officers throughout the
rest of their stay in Xanthi. The documentary project was shelved and
they returned to the Greek-Turkish border.
Evidence of the Greek authorities unwillingness to allow journalists
from Macedonia and Turkey into the country continued in the late summer.
On 25 August, Slavko Mangovski, editor-in-chief of the weekly magazine
Makedonsko Sonce, published in Skopje, was denied entry into the country.
It is thought that the Greek authorities denied Mangovski entry on the
basis that he has a reputation for defending the rights of Macedonian
minorities in the Balkans.
As Mangovski wrote in a complaint he filed to the Greek ombudsman, "I
wanted to enter Greece through the Evzoni border crossing on the afternoon
of 25 August to visit a village festival in northern Greece. I was informed
by the border authorities that there was a problem with my status after
the computer check and that if I wanted to wait they would send a fax
to the Central Police station in Athens and verify whether I could gain
entry. After a prolonged wait, I decided to return rather then spend
Furthermore, Mangovski went onto say, "on 28 August , I attempted
entry at the border crossing of Niki in order to visit another village
festival. After the routine computer check, I was advised to wait and
after approximately 10 minutes was summoned to the office of what appeared
to be the chief of the police and given a Notification Certificate for
the Refusal of Entry specifying 'other reasons' as grounds for the refusal.
At the same time, a crossed stamp was placed in my US passport, apparently
in order to alert border authorities that I'm effectively banned from
ever entering Greece."
Although no reason was provided, GHM believes that Mangovski (born
in Bitola, Macedonia) is on a list of "undesirables".
Regarding freedom of expression, the protracted trial of Sotiris Bletsas,
a member of the Society for Aroumanian Culture, also raised concern.
The legal case of Bletsas has been postponed a number of times. In 1995,
Bletsas was indicted for distributing a publication of the European
Union's Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages (in which Sotiris Bletsas was
the Greek "observer") which mentioned minority languages in
Greece. The prosecution for dissemination of false information, article
191 of the penal code, was triggered by charges laid down by the deputy
Eugene Haitidis of the party of New Democracy. During the trial, the
prosecution's witnesses included the leader of the Panhellenic Union
of Vlach Associations. They considered the reference to the Vlach language
as a minority language defamatory to the Valchs. The trial was last
The Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) was a primary source for the above
1999 World Press Freedom Review
The press climate in Greece continues to be clouded by criminal charges
brought against journalists and newspapers in cases of libel and defamation.
The publication of leaked official documents is also bringing the media
into direct confrontation with the authorities.
Minister of Justice, Evangelos Yannapoulos, has repeatedly attacked
and insulted journalists or other politicians who have been vocally
critical of him, including by bringing charges against them. On 5 January,
2000 a Three-Member Appeals Court of Athens convicted Prefect of Athens
Theodore Katrivanos to 15 months in prison for aggravated defamation
of the Minister, because he had challenged the latter's controversial
resistance record during the Second World War. During the long trial,
the Minister insulted veteran journalist Yannis Voultepsis calling him
a "stool;" and brought charges against the communist daily
Rizospastis for aggravated defamation along with a civil suit for 500
million drs. The newspaper had published Katrivanos' arguments challenging
the Minister's record.
On January 21, 1999, journalist and publisher of the daily Alithia,
Yannis Tzoumas, was acquitted of defamation charges. Tzoumas had been
convicted on September 3, 1998, to four months' imprisonment for defaming
Minister Stavros Soumakis saying that the Minister had stayed at the
house of a ship owner who was under investigation. Tzoumas also claimed
that the Minister had managed to get tickets for himself and his wife
on an Olympic Airways flight in 1997, a flight that is always booked
out three months in advance. After appealing, the court found the facts
to be correct and that there was no intent to defame the Minister but
only to criticise his behaviour, albeit in a harsh style.
The Greek supreme court overturned a 1998 verdict this year by the
Single Member First Instance Court of Salonica which had ordered the
removal of an entry in the Dictionary of Modern Greek Language that
read as follows: "Bulgarian (...) 2. (abusive) the follower or
player of a Salonica team (mainly PAOK)." The Supreme Court said
that the entry did constitute an offence but that the offence was not
against the law.
On March 7, the Chief Prosecutor of the First Instance Court of Athens,
G. Koliokostas, brought criminal charges against all those responsible
for the publication of alleged state secrets in the nation's largest
daily Ta Nea. The charges are punishable with up to ten years' imprisonment
under article 146 of the penal code. Ta Nea had published a report written
by the Greek Ambassador to Kenya that contained information of the capture
of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan was captured by the Turks
following 12 days under the secret protection of Greek diplomats in
Kenya. The indictment brought against Ta Nea stated that the publication
of the report was an illegal act since it contained "information
which the interest of the state required to be kept secret from foreign
governments." Greek newspapers came down hard on the government
after Ocalan's detainment, with some papers calling for the resignation
of Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos. Some editorials said that the
Greek government had collaborated with the Turkish secret service. The
right-wing tabloid Vradyni called Prime Minister Costas Simitis a "Turkish
On May 4, a Misdemeanor Court convicted Greek Helsinki Monitor Spokesperson
Panayote Dimitras to a suspended sentence of 5 months in prison for
defamation of minority lawyer Orhan Hadjiibram. Dimitras was not properly
summoned but was nevertheless tried in abstentia. The court considered
a GHM statement defamatory which was critical of Hadjiibram's handling
of the stateless issue, even though it stated that the facts therein
were true. The court did not specify which words, phrases or sentences
were defamatory, but considered that there was intent to defame the
lawyer. On January 12, 2000, an Appeals Court acquitted Dimitras, stating
that there was no defamation.
Greek media has also been criticised this year for being unscrupulous
and biased. Veteran columnist Richardos Someritis said in a protest
letter to the Athens Journalist Union (ESIEA) on March 31 that "many
Greek journalists...behave like soldiers in the front: they have chosen
their camp, their uniform, their flag...all journalists with a point
of view different than the dominant one or who dared offer the information
that others refused are being threatened or humiliated." The main
criticism stemmed from the reporting of the Kosovo conflict where, in
some cases, Hitler was portrayed as rising from the tomb to lead Nato
tanks in Yugoslavia. Te Nea also published cartoons of Nato planes drawn
with swastikas on their wings and Vradyni regularly referred to "Adolph
On May 18, editor and publisher of the daily Adesmeftos Typos Dimitris
Rizos was convicted and given a five-month suspended sentence for insulting
George Papazoglou, a former staff member of the newspaper. On May 21,
Rizos was convicted by a three-member appeals court to twelve months
in prison for repeated aggravated defamation of four members of the
board of directors of the rival daily Eleftheros Typos. Rizos had presented
unsubstantiated allegations of embezzlement of funds. Rizos bought off
the sentence and was set free [In Greece, for sentences of less than
24-months there is generally an option of serving them or paying instead:
the term used is "buying off"].
On May 19, editor and publisher of the weekly Enimerosi Charalambos
Triantafyllidis was convicted and given a five-month suspended sentence
for insulting Florina's (NW Greece) then prefect-elect Pavlos Altanis
on November 11, 1998. The article touched on the alleged revengeful
actions of the prefect. Triantafyllidis was also sentenced to pay a
fine of 500,000 drs. (approximately US$ 1,635) for damages.
The publisher of High magazine, Vicky Bataya, was convicted on June
1 for aggravated defamation of singer George Dalaras. Bataya was sentenced
to 18 months in prison but is free pending appeal.
On June 11, the private Mega Channel censored its mandatory pre-electoral
programme devoted to presentations by small parties, by removing the
presentation of "Rainbow," the Macedonian minority party.
The station ran all other presentations including the one made by the
extreme-right "National Front". Despite the illegality of
this censorship, the National Radio and Television Council took no action.
This was not the only instance during the year when the National Radio
and Television Council failed to fulfil its legal obligations. On July
28, PASOK Deputy Stelios Papathemelis reportedly made defamatory references
to the GHM Spokesperson Panayote Dimitras during a televised interview
on TV Channel Seven. Dimitras formally applied to the Council (Request
1448/13-8-1999) for a copy of the programme, in order to ascertain the
exact content of these remarks and possibly take legal action. The Council
did not take the action prescribed by law.
In November 1999, the Public Prosecutor of Mytilini indicted two journalists
for defamation and aggravated defamation (articles 362 and 363 respectively)
after charges were brought by the police of Lesvos. The two journalists,
Stratis Balaskas and George Kondiloudis, had written an article in the
Eleftherotypia newspaper. The article referred to alleged relations
of police officers of Lesvos with smugglers in a local olive press.
On December 2, twelve police officers raided the administrative offices
of the non-profit association 'Biblical Circle' running Channel Station
2000 Radio, and arrested 73-year-old retired pastor Lakis Regas, who
was working as a technician on the premises when the police arrived.
Regas spent the night in jail. He was released the next day by a judge's
order. Greek authorities accused Channel Station 2000 of not having
the proper operating license, despite the fact that it is well known
that no private radio station has ever managed to get one. A trial was
set for 31 January 2000. In 1994, the government shut down Greece's
only Evangelical television station, Hellas 62.
On December 6, a three-member Misdemeanor Court of Athens convicted
Dimitris Rizos, publisher of Adesmeftos Typos, for aggravated defamation
of Costas Mitsis, publisher of another newspaper with the same name,
Adesmeftos Typos. He was sentenced to ten months in prison but is free
On October 21, two journalists from Halkidiki's Super Channel were
beaten by a mob led by Mayor Costas Papayannis, in Kasandra, Halkidiki
(Northern Greece). Costas Glykos and Michalis Katsamiras were covering
the mob's attempt to prevent the local Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) from
starting the construction of their house of worship; construction that
had been authorised by the authorities. During the violent incident,
JWs as well as two representatives of the Ombudsman's office were harassed
by the mob. The two journalists and the JWs pressed charges against
the mayor and some alleged accomplices. On October 22, the prosecutor
formally indicted the mayor and his accomplices for crimes that included
inciting to religious hatred. Nevertheless, neither during the incident,
nor in the ensuing forty-eight hours, did the police arrest the alleged
perpetrators of the crimes as called for by the code of criminal procedure.
As IPI and other organisations have regularly pointed out, criminal
charges brought against journalists constitutes the main threat to press
freedom in Greece. It is considered essential for a functioning democracy
to have a free and vocal press. Issuing prison sentences in libel and
defamation cases, suspended or otherwise, impedes the free flow of opinions
and ideas. Any person who feels exposed to false, harmful reporting
should have the right to bring a case before a civil court, and if proved
right, be able to demand a public apology or retraction, and financial
compensation for demonstrable damages. This is not yet the case in Greece.
As the catalogue of selected cases listed above indicates, Greek journalists
face a barrage of litigation, which can only ultimately serve to stifle
freedom of expression. When IPI approached the Greek authorities for
comment on this issue, a spokesman said: "Criminal proceedings
for members of the press are identical for all those exercised for all
other citizens who come into conflict with the law. Therefore, any case
of incorrect or slanderous information issued via the press is subject
to the general legal provisions governing slander." While IPI is
an organisation that promotes press freedom, it does not seek preferential
treatment for journalists. The institute holds that slander, libel and
defamation should be covered in the civil code and that no citizen,
be they a journalist or otherwise, should face the prospect of a criminal
record and a prison sentence for what they say or write.
The spokesman went on to say that "...in legal practice, courts
are often seen to be more lenient in their sentences in cases involving
the press, than otherwise. This further confirms not only the sensitivity
of Greek justice, but also of Greek jurisprudence in general, when applied
to the principle of the freedom of the press."
If the cases listed above, along with the astounding array of cases
documented in recent years, point to a "sensitivity" of any
kind, it is surely to the sensitivity of public figures who - counter
to international standards and practices -- do not feel they should
receive more scrutiny or accept more criticism that private individuals.
The Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) was a primary source of information
for the above piece.
1998 World Press Freedom Review
The Greek authorities are using draconian libel legislation to muzzle
critical journalists. Despite the fact that Greece has signed and ratified
several international treaties guaranteeing freedom of expression, the
country is quickly isolating itself from its fellow European Union member
states by punishing journalists with prison sentences. The European
Court of Human Rights has pronounced on several occasions that public
figures must accept a greater level of scrutiny and criticism than private
individuals; only a vociferous press can adequately stimulate the public
debate and perform the role of public watchdog. Furthermore, it is widely
accepted in functioning democracies around the globe that press offences
should be dealt with in the civil code. A person who feels wrongfully
harmed can seek redress through the civil courts in the form of a retraction,
apology or compensatory payment for demonstrable damages. Issuing prison
sentences to impede the free flow of ideas and opinions is not compatible
with democratic principles.
Minister of Justice Evangelos Yannopoulos announced his intention in
August to introduce an additional paragraph to Articles 361 on insult
and 362 on defamation of the Greek Penal Code, which would allow for
at least two years' imprisonment in cases of insult and defamation through
the electronic media.
The proposed text reads: "A newscaster or broadcaster of a television
or radio station who broadcasts, reads or allows the broadcasting of
messages with insulting or defamatory content is punishable with imprisonment
of at least two years. The supervising Director of the employee, who
gave the order for the broadcasting or reading of that message or allowed
its broadcasting is punished as instigating principal or secondary accessory
depending on the case."
The Minister added that the prosecution of such cases will be at the
discretion of the public prosecutors without requiring prior complaint
by the persons allegedly offended. Moreover, he stated he was also considering
introducing fines up to 5,000,000 drs. (US$17,000) for such "crimes";
and compelling the electronic media to broadcast full identity data
of all individuals whose messages will be broadcasted.
The Greek Helsinki Monitor, an independent organisation which monitors
human rights abuses in the region has documented several disturbing
cases this year.
On April 1, an Athens court sustained on appeal the prison sentence
of four years and two months for "libel" and "publishing
a false document" against Makis Psomiadis, journalist and owner
of the daily Onoma, and ordered that he be incarcerated. This sentence
occurred following an article which appeared in February 1996, in which
the journalist accused the Minister of Environment and Public Works,
Costas Laliotis, of having been paid a commission for awarding a German
company the construction of the new international airport in Athens.
Psomiadis actually served a few months in prison before being released
from prison for health reasons.
Giorgos Kondyloudis, journalist and publisher of Eolika Nea, a daily
on the island of Mytilini (also known as Lesbos), was convicted on September
3 by a three-member Misdemeanor Court to 8 months in prison for insulting
deputy Franklinos Papadelis. He was sentenced in connection with a letter
to the editor, published on 16 June 1997, which called the deputy's
views "childish" and "politicians [in general, not the
deputy] unworthy persons, who disgust people." He appealed the
verdict, so the sentence is currently suspended pending the appeal.
On the same day, Yannis Tzoumas, journalist and publisher of Alithia,
a daily on the island of Chios, was convicted to four months' imprisonment
for defamation. He was charged for an August 1997 article with which
he was accused of defaming Minister Stavros Soumakis. Initially, he
was charged with aggravated defamation for having claimed the Minister,
when visiting Chios, was staying at the house of a ship owner who was
under investigation. The journalist also claimed the minister had managed
to get tickets for himself and his wife on the eve of the 16 August
1997 Olympic Airways flight (this flight is always fully booked three
months in advance.) The paper called him "minister of the ship
owners...who sunbathes at the villas of the ship owners." During
the trial, the facts were confirmed as accurate, but the court considered
that the "harsh style" of the article was an act of defamation.
On September 17, journalist Makis Triantafyllopoulos was convicted
and given a suspended sentence of eight months for the defamation of
Minister of Justice Evangelos Yannopoulos, in an article in the daily
Kalimera on January 8. In the article, he had argued that the Minister
was interfering with justice in a case implicating the governor of the
Social Security Fund, Gregory Solomos, to seek favourable treatment
of the latter.
A three-member Misdemeanour Court of Salonica sentenced Avriani newspaper
publisher George Kouris, editor George Tsiroyannis and journalist Stelios
Vorinas to 4 years and 11 months in prison on September 21. They were
convicted for aggravated defamation and insult of Yannis Raptopoulos,
owner of Express Service, a roadside assistance company; Raptopoulos
also owns the Salonica newspapers Makedonia and Thessaloniki, while
Kouris owns the rival newspaper Nea Makedonia. Raptopoulos' lawyers
said that Kouris had previously been obliged to pay huge fines by civil
courts for articles deemed defamatory, but he has always managed to
avoid paying them because of the hazy and ever changing legal ownership
of his newspapers.
In another case, on September 2, Abdulhalim Dede, a journalist of the
Turkish minority, was sentenced by the Xanthi court in northern Greece
to 8 months in prison for trying to install a radio antenna for Radio
Isik in his back yard. He was arrested on September 1, kept at police
headquarters overnight and sentenced the next day under the flagrante
delicto procedure, rarely used for charges such as building without
a permit. Such procedure has also rarely been used against journalists.
The sentence is currently suspended pending appeal.
Other cases pending against Dede for illegally operating radio stations,
due to be heard on October 22, were postponed because of municipal elections.
He was charged in February 1996 for launching the radio station Radio
Isik without a broadcast license. In 1997, Dede was given a six-month
suspended sentence for defamation of an ultra-nationalist activist from
Thrace; he was charged in connection with an article published in Thrace's
Turkish minority newspaper Trakyanin Sesi. Over three thousand radio
stations operate in Greece without licenses, several of which have also
installed antennae without permission.
In October, the Council of Appellate Judges of Athens acquitted journalists
George Harvalias, Noni Karayanni, George Papathanasopoulos of Eleftheros
Typos, and Manolis Kottakis of Apogevmatini from charges of disclosure
of state secrets. The charges were brought after the papers published
classified foreign policy documents.
A Macedonian Television (MTV) crew was refused entry visas by the Greek
Liaison Office in Skopje. The crew intended to cover the trial of the
Macedonian minority party Rainbow. On September 15, Rainbow was on trial
in Greece for the use of the Macedonian mother tongue. The Greek authorities
had been formally informed of the request on September 9 through a MTV
letter. Two weeks prior, the same crew was given visas in a matter of
hours to cover Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Buzlevski's visit to
Greece. It was widely believed that the Greek authorities were simply
trying to limit coverage of the embarrassing trial, which ended with
the acquittal of the Rainbow leaders and the implicit recognition of
the right to henceforth freely use the Macedonian language, both orally
and in writing.
On October 10, Lutfu Karakas (a Turkish citizen) of the Turkish Hurriyet
Press Agency, along with Mucahit Dukkanci (a Greek citizen), journalist
and (at the time) candidate for mayor in the Turkish minority community
of Myki (Thrace), were taken into custody by local police. They were
told that the village is in a restricted zone where foreigners are not
allowed without special permit granted by the Greek Defence Ministry.
Greece announced in 1995 the abolition of the 10 km-deep zone (inside
the Greek-Bulgarian border but only in the area inhabited by the minority).
Xanthi District Police Director informed them that in fact the abolition
applied only to Greek citizens. He also asked the journalist to stay
within the limits of the city of Xanthi. The following day the journalist
returned to Turkey. All during his stay, the Turkish journalist was
followed by security agents, "for his protection" as they
A Greek court slapped a temporary injunction on sales of a dictionary
following a dispute over an allegedly insulting definition contained
in the book. On May 26, court officials in Thessaloniki confirmed the
decision, made in response to complaints by a local conservative politician
over one of the dictionary's definitions for "Bulgarians."
The dictionary states that "Bulgarians" is used in Greek
slang as a pejorative term for supporters or players of sports teams
in Thessaloniki, which is near the Bulgarian border. Fans of soccer
and basketball teams from Athens and the rest of the south often taunt
northern fans and players, especially from the PAOK team, with the term.