Media watchdog downgrades Greece in annual index and warns of a ‘problematic’ situation for reporters in the EU nation.
Athens, Greece – Concerns around press freedom in Greece have been raised by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), as the media watchdog publishes its World Press Freedom Index.
In the list, which is released annually and ranks 180 countries in the world from “good” to “very bad”, Greece has dropped five places.
The European Union member state is now at 70, down from 65 in 2020, a rating considered as “problematic”.
The fresh index comes as concerns mount over the case of Giorgos Karaivaz, a Greek crime reporter working for private broadcaster Star TV, who was shot outside his home as he returned from work in south Athens two weeks ago.
It remains unclear if the murder was related to his work but the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called it a “despicable, cowardly act” in a tweet, adding, “Europe stands for freedom. And freedom of the press may be the most sacred of all.”
In the past year, there have been several reports of journalists being harassed by police while covering protests in lockdown.
In February, the Paris-based RSF called for an investigation after seven journalists were tear-gassed and beaten with batons and shields during a demonstration.
RSF described that incident as an “unprovoked attack by the police”.
Journalists interacting with government officials have also reported significant challenges.
Greek journalist Dimitra Kroustalli said in January she had been forced to resign from her job at the To Vima newspaper after “strangling pressure” from the Greek prime minister’s cabinet.
Kroustalli had been covering the flaws in the systems used to track and monitor COVID-19 cases.
Grants totalling 20m euros given to blogs and media outlets to fund COVID awareness campaigns also came under scrutiny last year when it was revealed in June that some of the media outlets had no webpages.
Stavros Malichudis, a freelance journalist based in the capital, Athens, said that the recent murder of a media worker had put the spotlight back on press freedom in Greece.
“Until Karaivaz’s murder, Greece wasn’t considered as a country where journalists might be killed for doing their job. Press freedom, though, definitely has been an issue,” Malichudis told Al Jazeera.
“The coverage of public TV has always been in favour of the government, instead of the public it ought to serve. Journalists working for major media know there are specific topics they can’t even pitch a story about and large corporations seldom get covered in the press where only their adverts appear.
“Another issue is the restriction of coverage on refugees by the Greek government, which has already been criticised by media watchdogs.”
‘Tight control of information’
Meanwhile, journalists working on refugee issues have faced hostility from local authorities on the Aegean islands.
Multiple media freedom groups wrote to Greek authorities after local police detained a group of journalists working for the German Climate Foundation on the Greek island of Samos last October.
The group, which was making a documentary about climate-induced migration, were denied access to a lawyer and strip-searched before being released without charge.
Pavol Szalai, head of RSF’s EU/Balkans desk, told Al Jazeera the NGO was concerned by the current situation in Greece.
“Press freedom in Greece has been rapidly deteriorating.
“Right now, Greek journalists are having a hard time in scrutinising the government policies and reporting on the handling of the pandemic or the refugee crisis.
“The recent brutal killing of crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz has brought an additional layer of serious concern for investigative journalists. Quite frankly, the current situation is a dangerous cocktail for press freedom.”