Thessaloniki, March 2024

Critical issues concerning press and media freedom in Greece, such as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), safety of journalists, media pluralism, and impunity for those who violate the rule of law, were discussed on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at the roundtable organised by the Platform for the Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, Symbiosis-Council of Europe School of Political Studies in Greece, and the Journalists’ Union of Macedonia and Thrace. The roundtable was preceded by the presentation of the report ‘Press Freedom in Europe: Time to Turn the Tide’ by the Platform to promote the protection of journalism and journalist safety.

The challenges confronting journalism are numerous. The moderator of the discussion, Yannis Kotsifos, Director of the Journalists’ Union of Macedonia and Thrace, referred to the difficulties faced by journalism in politically polarized countries. Journalist Yannis-Orestis Papadimitriou discussed press dependencies and the lack of pluralism. Journalist Elisa Triantafyllou, known for her key role in exposing the wiretapping scandal in Greece, expressed concern about the insufficient protection against government interference. Journalist Giorgos Christides highlighted the deep-rooted public skepticism towards journalists, low press freedom rates, and the lack of public trust in journalists. Referring to journalistic independence, Christides stressed the need for financial support for the media. Journalist Stavroula Poulimeni shared her personal experience of facing a SLAPP lawsuit following her investigative report on the environmental impact of Ellinikos Xrysos company’s activities in Halkidiki. Despite attracting significant national and international attention, the court ruled against her, imposing a fine for moral damages, against which she has appealed. Through this ongoing legal battle, Poulimeni has highlighted the obstacles and challenges that journalists often face. Journalist Thodoris Chondrogiannos described the surveillance of journalist Thanasis Koukakis in 2022 by Predator software. The discussion demonstrated the pressing need to promote substantial changes to ensure freedom of the press in Greece. Unity among journalists and collective action are essential to address the multifaceted challenges they face.

In 2023, according to the report ‘Press Freedom in Europe: Time to Turn the Tide,’ despite a decrease in the number of murders of journalists and violence during protests, press freedom in Europe continued to be a significant challenge.During the presentation of the report, Ricardo Gutierrez, Secretary-General of the European Federation of Journalists, pointed out that “the situation is not improving” and added, “we have more and more cases of attacks against journalists, intimidation, and harassment, illegal surveillance.” Referring to his personal experience, journalist Tasos Telloglou commented that interception by intelligence agencies is nothing new. What is new is that with the use of illegal spyware, a journalist can talk to a source and a third party can ‘listen in.’ “They sit in an office and ‘fish’ information through our sources and provide ‘service’ to the government on what is going to be published.” He underlined that he is skeptical when European institutions ask the authorities to protect journalists, noting that “It’s like sending the turkey on Thanksgiving to be protected by the butcher.”

Despite these obstacles, the report highlighted some positive developments. European institutions and member states recognized the significance of press freedom and initiated efforts to safeguard it, as evidenced by initiatives such as the Council of Europe’s Journalists Matter campaign and the European Media Freedom Act. Looking ahead to pivotal 2024 elections, recommendations underscored the crucial link between independent media and free and fair elections. Urgent calls for action were made regarding surveillance issues and the issuance of humanitarian visas for journalists seeking to escape their country’s repressive regimes.